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Senate GOP Likely to Get Face-Saving Debt Votes

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Senate Republicans are likely to get a vote on the Cut, Cap and Balance Act in addition to the balanced budget amendment as soon as next week.

The Senate Democratic majority appears ready to go along with the plan in an attempt to let its GOP colleagues cast votes in favor of hard-line spending positions before Republicans are asked to take a tough vote on a possible Plan B to avert government default on the national debt.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said for weeks that his Conference will get a floor vote on an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting the government from spending more money than it takes in. Such a measure has the support of all 47 members of his Conference. But in an important strategic move, the Kentucky Republican is now pushing for a vote on the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, which began as a spending pledge among the most conservative members of his party, but now is a bill he joined as a co-sponsor this week.

The pledge states that lawmakers will oppose any debt limit increase that does not also include a corresponding package of "substantial" cuts, enforceable spending caps and passage of the balanced budget amendment.

Though both the spending legislation and the constitutional amendment are likely to fail, the votes could be a carrot for Members outwardly upset by McConnell's Plan B proposal but who privately agree with him that Republicans need to ensure that Democrats take the blame if the economy continues to falter leading into the 2012 elections. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other officials have warned of the potential disastrous consequences for the economy if the U.S. defaults on its debt.

McConnell's plan would make it somewhat easier to raise the debt limit in the short term, but it would allow the Congress to vote on resolutions of disapproval. The plan also would require a series of three votes on raising the nation's debt ceiling without guaranteed spending cuts.

In a statement responding to President Barack Obama's fourth media availability in a week, McConnell juxtaposed the continued failure of bipartisan talks at the White House with the Congressional action demanded by Republicans next week.

"I had high hopes that the administration would be able to work with us to reduce our deficit, " McConnell said. "Now the debate will move from a room in the White House to the House and Senate floors. Next week, the Senate will vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, the Cut, Cap and Balance plan will start in the House, and we will continue to press for more deficit reduction."

With an Aug. 2 deadline to avert government default looming, McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have ramped up negotiations to design a package that would raise the debt ceiling and hopefully strike the right balance to have some chance to clear the House.

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