- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2018

House Republicans are eyeing a vote on a balanced budget amendment when lawmakers return to Washington from their spring recess, taking another stab at a longtime GOP priority that’s eluded them for more than three decades.

The vote, which could take place next month, is part of a deal struck last year between Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, a GOP aide confirmed Thursday.

Mr. Walker and other conservatives agreed to support a budget blueprint that paved the way for Republicans’ $1.5 trillion tax cut plan in exchange for a vote down the road on a balanced budget amendment, according to the deal with Mr. Ryan.

But GOP leaders have been strikingly silent, and the offices for Mr. Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy did not respond to requests for comment this week.

Rep. Tom Reed, New York Republican, said pushing for a constitutional amendment could be the only way to force fiscal discipline onto Washington.

“It’s more substantive than that. You’re talking about a balanced budget amendment, which we need in Washington, D.C. to get our house in order, because any other way — these guys won’t do it,” he said Thursday on Fox Business Network.

But Sen. Bob Corker, a top deficit hawk, dismissed the amendment push, tweeting that Republicans hold all the cards in Washington and could balance the budget if they really wanted to.

“But instead of doing the real work, some will push this symbolic measure so they can feel good when they go home to face voters,” said the Tennessee Republican, who is not seeking re-election this year.

Indeed, the push might have been more effective if it didn’t follow a tax-cut and spending spree that analysts say is likely to add a combined $3 trillion to the deficit over the next decade.

“They just exploded our debt and deficits with more than $1 trillion of tax breaks for millionaires and corporations,” said Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “The American people will overwhelmingly reject this plan.”

Politico first reported this week that House Republicans were planning to take up a balanced budget amendment after their current spring break.

Conservative activists said they welcome the chance for a vote but said GOP lawmakers have to do more to prove they’re serious about fiscal responsibility.

“How many times did Republicans vote to fully repeal Obamacare only to buckle under pressure when it finally came time to do it?” said Andy Roth, vice president of government affairs for the Club for Growth. “The American public is too smart to fall for more show votes.”

Even with one-party control of Congress, amending the Constitution is still a massive effort, requiring a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate plus support from three-quarters of the states.

In 1995, a balanced budget amendment was a single Senate vote away from meeting that threshold in both chambers, but lawmakers haven’t got as close in recent years.

Congress’ last major push at passing a balanced budget amendment came in 2011, the year after Republicans rode the tea party wave to take back control of the House following the 2010 elections.

Republican plans in both the House and the Senate failed to secure a two-thirds majority in either chamber.

Mr. Ryan, then chairman of the Budget Committee, actually voted no on the House measure, saying that it didn’t go far enough in placing restrictions on future spending and tax increases.

Democrats who had backed a balanced budget amendment in the 1990s — including Reps. Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, now the No. 2 and No. 3-ranking Democrats in the House — also voted against the plan.

Mr. Hoyer said at the time he still believed in a balanced budget, but said he didn’t trust Republicans to allow for exceptions in fiscal emergencies such as another Wall Street collapse.

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