Delayed Amendment Vote Buys Groups Time to Build Support

Posted July 18, 2011 at 4:56pm

Conservative activists hailed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s decision to delay a vote on a balanced budget amendment, saying Monday that it should give them more time to pressure Democrats to support the constitutional change.

“It is important that Congress put forth serious proposals, such as a properly constructed balanced budget amendment,” said Michael Needham, CEO of the conservative outside group Heritage Action for America. “Heritage Action wants a vote on the BBA, but we want it when the issue is fully ripened, and there is still some groundwork left to do.”

Cantor had canceled the recess scheduled for this week in order to hold a vote on the amendment, but the Virginia Republican decided late last week to scrap that plan and hold the vote at a date to be determined later.

Cantor, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and other GOP leaders have moved sharply to the right over the past two weeks as they have struggled to come to an agreement with President Barack Obama on a debt limit increase, and the leadership last week embraced the amendment and a broader spending reduction plan supported by conservatives.

Conservatives had complained for weeks that they believed Cantor and other leaders were not taking their cause seriously. In particular, activists had worried about the timing of the votes on the amendment and Cut, Cap and Balance legislation backed by the Republican Study Committee.

Conservatives have “been greatly concerned that the issue was being rushed to the floor to be disposed of rather than passed,” said Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union.

“That has been a source of tension” between leadership and the outside organizations behind the push, Sepp added.

A second conservative agreed, saying activists “feel this is a ‘check the box’ vote,” which is the same language that Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) used Sunday to describe the Senate’s upcoming amendment vote.

Getting extra time to pressure Democrats “was something that we sought vigorously,” Sepp said, adding that “every day of additional time we get is an opportunity to try and get bipartisan support” for the amendment, something GOP leaders will need if they want to pass the bill.

Conservatives have made the amendment one of their legislative priorities this year and have spent significant resources to pressure Republicans and Democrats to support it. If it wins a two-thirds majority in both chambers and is ratified by 38 states, the amendment would severely restrict the ability of Congress to raise taxes and require spending cuts to balance the federal budget.

A number of organizations have already begun pressing Democrats on the issue. For instance, the NTU has been working with its grass-roots activists to push for Democratic supporters, while Heritage Action has launched an aggressive play of its own.

The organization has targeted 55 House Democrats — including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), Rep. Tim Bishop (N.Y.), Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.) and Rep. Nick Rahall (W.Va.) — for a robocall campaign. Six other Democrats including House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) are targets of a social media and grass-roots campaign, according to Heritage Action.

Heritage Action will also designate the House vote Tuesday on the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation as a key vote.