Throwing down the gauntlet, Republican Sen. Jim DeMint threatened Monday to block a vote in Congress on raising the U.S. debt ceiling unless he wins a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
The filibuster threat comes a day after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner suggested Republican leaders had offered private assurances to the White House that they ultimately would vote to raise the $14.3 trillion ceiling, regardless of whether a deal is reached on long-term spending cuts.
Publicly, Republicans say they will demand spending cuts as a condition for supporting a hike in the debt ceiling. They stood by that claim following Geithner’s comments, and DeMint took their demands a step further.
“I will oppose any attempt to vote to raise the limit on our $14 trillion debt until Congress passes the balanced-budget amendment,” the South Carolina conservative said. He first made the remarks to McClatchy, which his office confirmed to Fox News.
The debt cap has already been raised three times during President’s first two years in office. In February 2009 Obama got a $789 billion debt limit hike from Congress to pay for his stimulus plan. In December of that same year Congress passed a $290 billion debt ceiling increase and in February 2010 the Democrats in Congress hiked the limit another $1.4 trillion to today’s $14.3 trillion max.
That last increase was the largest single hike in the national debt cap in history, and was so large because Democrats didn’t want to have to raise it again later in the election year.
The balanced budget amendment DeMint is looking for requires a two-thirds vote for tax increases, a three-fifths vote for increases to the debt ceiling, and a three-fifths vote to spend more than 18 percent of GDP which would make it tougher than what Republicans wanted back in 1996 when an amendment failed by one vote (thanks Senator Kent Conrad!).
The Obama administration is saying that Republicans will ultimately side with Democrats and vote to raise the debt cap, but is that true? The GOP base is already feeling rankled after a something less-than-impressive compromise on the FY2011 budget crafted by Speaker Boehner, will Republicans risk their wrath by going along with a big debt cap increase?
Especially with someone like Senator Jim DeMint on their right flank demanding the sort of balanced budget amendment conservatives want?
Time will tell, but I have to think that it’s safer for Republicans to vote for a balanced budget amendment than for a debt cap increase.