Republican plans to pursue a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution have gotten relatively little attention from Congressional Democrats, who remain focused on the debt limit negotiations.
But that is likely to change in the coming days as their leaders prep for an ugly skirmish next week, when the amendment is expected be on the House floor.
According to Democratic aides, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (Md.) met with freshman and sophomore Members this week to discuss the amendment, which was a main topic of a Wednesday morning meeting with ranking members.
The Minority Leader’s office has started including the vote in its daily talking points distributed to Members, and Pelosi, Van Hollen, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and other leaders are stepping up the rhetoric against Republicans.
Their message is simple: The amendment — which is expected to require a super majority to raise taxes and force Congress to cut spending to balance the budget — is a “Trojan horse” to put in place Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget.
Aides say Pelosi and her lieutenants will make the GOP position on Medicare the centerpiece of attacks. A statement from Hoyer on Wednesday previewed that.
“I strongly oppose Republicans’ proposed balanced budget amendment, and I will be whipping against it. By enshrining Republican policy priorities in the Constitution — and by making it historically difficult to raise revenue or raise the debt ceiling in order to pay our bills — the Republican amendment would impose
severe hardship on millions of Americans,” he said.
But while leaders are prepping for the debate, few of the party’s rank and file have had an opportunity to focus on the issue.
“I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, so I wouldn’t want to comment,” said Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition.
Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio) said, “I haven’t read it to see what the details are of it.”
But Ryan said he supports the general idea. “The principles of it I certainly do agree with, that we have to balance our budget. … But I think [Democrats] have a much better record of balancing the budget; it’s not something we’re afraid of.”
Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) said, “I haven’t seen it yet,” but he said pursuing such an amendment is “gamesmanship. It has nothing to do with the reality we’re dealing with here.”
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Wednesday “she hadn’t talked with [her colleagues] yet” and couldn’t comment.
A Democratic aide said Wednesday that the lack of focus on a balanced budget amendment is because the “debt ceiling is taking all the air out,” and while Republicans attempt to link them, Democrats see the two as separate issues.
A second Democratic aide said how the party handles the issue — such as whether Democrats will propose a motion to recommit — will have to wait until it knows what Republicans bring to the floor.
“Our approach is going to depend on how they solve their internal problems,” the aide said.
Democrats also said there is less pressure on them, given that the amendment would need scores of Democrats to pass.
Ryan called it “another parlor trick by the Republicans,” and he said Democrats in tight races do not fear the vote because “their policies and lack of regulation of Wall Street collapsed the economy, and we’re still cleaning up their mess and they’re pointing fingers at us. So the facts don’t bear out their accusations.”
In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will force a vote on the amendment next week.
“The time has come for a balanced budget amendment that forces Washington to balance its books,” McConnell said on the floor Wednesday. “If these debt negotiations have convinced us of anything, it’s that we can’t leave that to the politicians in Washington to make the difficult decisions they need to get our fiscal house in order.”
A GOP aide said that although it is unlikely to get the 67 votes needed to pass, it will put Senators on record. “If you are serious about reducing spending you would support it,” the aide said.
Jessica Brady contributed to this report.