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Roll Call

Unity Difficult on Balanced Budget Amendment

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, seen here with Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, has expressed confidence that House Republicans can pass a balanced budget amendment.

House Republican leadership remained confident Tuesday that a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution would pass this week, but holdouts on both sides of the aisle still threaten to sink the amendment.

Fourteen Democrats have co-sponsored the resolution as of Tuesday, but Republicans are still a ways from securing the 48 Democratic supporters they need to pass the bill — and that is assuming all Republicans vote for it.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy said “we’re in good shape” when asked about his efforts to secure support from Members in his Conference and insisted that if the amendment fails, it will have been because of Democrats.

“The only way that you can get an amendment to the Constitution on a balanced budget is to work bipartisan. We’ve been working bipartisan with a number of them,” the California Republican said.

Democratic leadership, meanwhile, has been waging a campaign against the amendment, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters Tuesday that his efforts to defeat it will be successful.

“I’m not going to go into specific number of votes, but I think it’s not likely that it will get the requisite number of votes,” the Maryland Democrat said.

The vote has exposed a rift among Members of the Democratic Caucus, some of whom believe that this is the best chance to pass a balanced budget amendment with no strings attached.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, who has been the most outspoken Democratic proponent of the measure, said he has been pitching this amendment to his colleagues for months and said he is frustrated that Hoyer has stepped into the fray recently when leadership was “shrugging their shoulders” when he brought it up to them long ago.

“Obviously I had hoped the Whip’s Office would stay out of it and let Democrats vote their conscience,” the Oregon lawmaker said. “The whole fight over the debt limit kind of poisoned the well a bit, and we’re trying to bring people back.”

Indeed, it’s a tough sell in the Caucus. Even Democrats who are receptive to the idea of a balanced budget amendment said they are not comfortable with the version Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has sponsored, which will be voted on late in the week.

Rep. Jim Costa, a Blue Dog Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the legislation, was not optimistic Tuesday about the measure’s chances of passage.

“It’s going to get Democrats’ support. I don’t know that it’s going to get enough,” the California lawmaker said.

A senior aide to a member of the moderate New Democrat Coalition agreed.

“A lot of people are skeptical not because of policy, but because of politics,” the aide said. “I think you’ll see a chunk of them support it, but not enough to pass it.”

Some New Democrats are undecided, including Rep. Jared Polis, who along with some colleagues has introduced a competing balanced budget amendment they say provides the government more flexibility and protects Social Security.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that we need a balanced budget amendment, but I wish that we were able to have a discussion about the best version of the balanced budget amendment. I think we can do better,” the Colorado lawmaker said. “I think that the House should have a kind of king-of-the-hill approach to see which version can garner more support.”

Also undecided is Rep. Kurt Schrader, who joined Polis in sponsoring the competing BBA. He said the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction is the key to his vote. If by Thursday the super committee shows progress, it will lessen the need for the BBA, he said.

“If they succeed, then I would vote against it. If they don’t succeed then I’m inclined to go forward,” the Oregon Democrat said.

Still, full Republican support is far from assured. In a GOP Conference meeting Tuesday, Rep. Phil Gingrey (Ga.) spoke up to advocate for a vote on a more stringent balanced budget amendment in addition to the one that will be brought to the floor.

“Look, it’s not too late to have two votes, to give people an opportunity … to get one that has real teeth in it,” Gingrey said he told his colleagues. “I made that one last pitch, and apparently it’s not going to happen.”

Gingrey said he will vote for the BBA anyway, but he said some Republican colleagues praised him for speaking out and expressing similar reservations.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) rescinded his sponsorship of the amendment earlier this month. Rep. Steve King said he thinks Democrats will not let the amendment pass Congress anyway, so the Conference may as well bring a more conservative version to the floor. Indeed, in a Statement of Administration Policy issued Tuesday, the White House said it “strongly opposes” the current proposal.

“I will tell you that a constitutional amendment will not pass this Congress and be sent to the states. It will not,” the Iowa Republican said. “With the understanding that they’re not going to let it pass, why would we give them a pass on it? Why would we give some of the remaining Blue Dogs cover? Just pass the one that we believe in and see if they want to vote for that one.”

But Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), who has supported the amendment, said he thinks Republicans will unify behind the current proposal.

“I think we’ll have a strong showing,” he said. “If there are some people on our side who don’t want to stand up on this, then I don’t know what they want.”

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