- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Capitol Hill Republicans have amped up their push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, a move that comes as Congress and the White House are struggling to find common ground to reduce the nation’s ballooning deficit.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, on Wednesday invoked a parliamentary procedure to fast-track a balanced budget amendment proposal that has the support of all 47 Senate Republicans.

But GOP leaders will have a much tougher time wooing enough Democrats, who complain the Republican plan would help the wealthy.

Mr. McConnell called a balanced budget amendment a “good first step” toward curbing government spending and reducing the deficit.

“If this week has shown us anything it’s that the American people can’t wait on Democrats to do the right thing when it comes to spending and debt and putting us on a path to balance the budget,” the minority leader said.

The Republican plan would require Congress to balance the federal budget each year, cap spending at 18 percent of the gross domestic product, require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to increase taxes and require a three-fifths majority vote in both chambers to raise the debt limit.

“Forty-nine states are required to balance their budgets. Individuals are required to balance their budgets. Why shouldn’t the federal government?” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican. “We’ve got to have a straitjacket that will get Congress to do what it really should do.”

House Republican leaders last week said they will introduce in July their own proposal for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

Republicans have suggested a balanced budget amendment could be part of a compromise deal to raise the nation’s credit limit, an issue that has bitterly divided the two parties.

But Democrats say the GOP proposals would benefit the wealthy at the expense of middle-income Americans.

While the GOP plans would require a supermajority in both houses of Congress to increase taxes, they call for only a simple majority vote for tax cuts — a scenario Democrats say would make important entitlement programs such as Medicare easy targets for cuts.

“The balanced budget amendment [Senate Republicans] are introducing, I’m told, is a real break for really wealthy people, because it would be much harder for them to chip in their fair share,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

The balanced budget debate comes as Democrats and Republicans are locked in a feud on how best to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling — the legal limit on how much the federal government can borrow to pay for its operations and debt obligations.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner says the debt limit must be increased by Aug. 2 or the government risks defaulting on its loans, a scenario he says could trigger another financial crisis.

Republican leaders, pressed by a large contingent of new tea party-backed members, have demanded any deal include spending cuts to equal the amount the debt ceiling is raised — at least $2 trillion. And they insist no taxes be increased.

Democrats, meanwhile, want any deal to include the closing of certain corporate tax loopholes, which Republicans say is nothing more than a tax increase on the business community.

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