Cut, Cap, and Balance: The 2/3 Vote Problem

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 21 2011 5:52 PM

Cut, Cap, and Balance: The 2/3 Vote Problem

mike lee
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Why am I so bearish on Cut, Cap, and Balance? Why so much more bearish than Tom Coburn, who said today that the president would probably sign the bill if it got to his desk?

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Because of this clause.

The Secretary of the Treasury shall not exercise the additional borrowing authority pro-vided under subsection (b) until the Archivist of the United States transmits to the States H. J. Res. 1 in the form reported on June 23, 2011, S. J. Res. 10 in the form 9 introduced on March 31, 2011, or H. J. Res. 56 in the form introduced on April 7, 2011, a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, or a similar amendment if it requires that total outlays not exceed total receipts, that contains a spending limitation as a percentage of GDP, and requires that tax increases be approved by a two-thirds vote in both Houses of Congress for their ratification.
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In order to give Tim Geithner the authority to create more debt, Congress doesn't just need to pass the bill. It needs to get 290 votes in the House and 67 votes in the Senate for a Balanced Budget Amendment along the lines of the strict one Republicans have been proposing this year.

I nagged Sen. Mike Lee and House Republicans about this at this afternoon's press conference. Was it realistic, I asked, to get 2/3 votes in the House and Senate for this?

"It's all the more reason for us to do it quickly," said Lee. "And, look, as far as the votes, as far as the market in the House goes, when we're faced with a situation in which we're otherwise going to be blowing past the debt limit then, look, I think we'll find a lot of people a lot more willing to consider voting for this, especially since the American people overwhelmingly do support a balanced budget amendment. The fact that we're in this difficult position being this closest to the debt limit is unfortunate. There are a lot of us who have been calling all year long for robust debate, discussion surrounding the debt limit and surrounding our desire to tie passage of a balanced budget amendment to the debt limit. For reasons that I still don't completely understand -- I'm still a freshman -- we have not gotten to this sooner. But we are here now, and I think we can use that as a reason that people ought to put forward."

Rep. Raul Labrador, a Tea Party freshman, challenged my premise.

"Your question actually amazes me," he said, "because you're asking if it's realistic for us to pass something that has been debated in the House for twenty years, in the Senate for twenty years, and we actually have bills drafted, but you don't think it's unrealistic for us to pass a plan that is contingent on bills that are not even drafted."

I interrupted him to point out that, the way this is written, Congress would have to pass the bill before hammering out the language of the actual BBA it then had to pass.

"We can vote on all of them and see which one passes," he said. "But yet, you guys are all putting your hopes -- and you are letting the American people put their hopes -- on a Gang of Six plan that hasn't even been drafted. There's no legislation on a McConnell plan that hasn't been drafted. This is why -- going back to the question why the American people are frustrated -- because you're not telling the American people the truth. You're not letting them know that the president has not a single -- a single cut -- that he's willing to agree to in public. Not a single cut. And we need to have -- you guys start asking the president, 'Can you name one cut that you're willing to agree with the House and the Senate.'"

Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., was next; he has sponsored one of the BBA versions.

"Let me translate for my colleague," he said. "Yes, it's very realistic. The American people support the concept. Most people up here do. It's very realistic."

True -- the concept of a BBA is popular! But isn't 12 days a pretty short amount of time to force debates on multiple versions of BBAs, and expect Americans to follow along?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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