WASHINGTON — Expect a largely party-line vote from the Minnesota delegation Tuesday on a measure to cut federal spending, cap future expenditures and send a balanced budget Constitutional amendment to the states for ratification — the so-called “cut, cap and balance” bill.
The legislation is the latest move taken by Congress to stave off impending economic doom by increasing the debt ceiling before the Aug. 2 deadline. The “Cut, Cap and Balance Act” would cut federal spending by $111 billion next year, cap spending in the future at 18 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (the 2010 level was 24 percent) and give the House’s blessing to a balanced budget amendment that not only requires an annual balanced budget (unless two-thirds of Congress vote to pass an unbalanced plan) but require a two-thirds vote to approve all tax increases in the future.
Under the plan, the House would pass a debt ceiling increase if the balanced budget amendment passes both the House and Senate.
Critics say the plan is bad policy that relies too heavily on spending cuts to balance the budget; proponents say it’s a proactive plan that will guarantee fiscal responsibility on behalf of the government.
The Republican-controlled House is likely to pass the measure. President Obama has already threatened to veto the legislation, though it’s unlikely to come to that — Democrats said the Senate’s version of the legislation would fail there.
It’s essentially a symbolic vote for House Republicans, who in May allowed a “clean” (cut-free) debt limit increase to come to the floor simply so they could vote it down. The opposite is happening here: they’ll vote in favor a doomed bill in order to show voter’s their commitment to the cause.
The bill has steady support from Minnesota Republicans Erik Paulsen and John Kline.
“This is our opportunity to get real spending cuts, real spending controls and I think our best chance ever to get a balanced budget amendment,” Kline said last week. On Monday, he tweeted that he’d be a co-sponsor on the Cut, Cap and Balance Act. “That cap and balance approach is the right one we ought to pursue … This debt ceiling issue is an opportunity to change how Washington spends money.”
Democrats resist the measure
Of course, not everyone feels that way.
Minnesota Democrats Tim Walz and Betty McCollum will vote “no” on the legislation, their offices confirmed Monday, and it’s unlikely it would have gotten support from Keith Ellison, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who will miss today’s vote as he contiues to recover from knee surgery. Congressman Collin Peterson’s office (as of those for Reps. Chip Cravaack and Michele Bachmann) was unable to answer MinnPost’s inquiries Monday on how he’ll vote.
Meanwhile, the White House attacked the plan, calling the cut, cap and balance strategy, “dodge, duck and dismantle” and promising a presidential veto.
“It may be a good sound bite, but its bad policy,” said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer in a conference call with reporters.
Steve Francisco, the federal policy director for the Minnesota Budget Project, said the plan’s two-thirds threshold for tax increases means budget balancing will happen disproportionately through spending cuts instead of a mix of cuts and tax increases, a strategy MBP requires.
He said the bill also handcuffs future presidents from dealing with a recession; since two-thirds of Congress is required to approve budget deficits, presidents wouldn’t be able to implement policies like President Obama’s stimulus package in the future.
But conservatives, who opposed such a large spending plan from the onset, say that’s the point of the amendment: Congress can still pass unbalanced budgets or tax increases, but those measures will require overwhelming support from members.
Meanwhile, though, the plan would require budget cutting measures that are meant to trim excess fat from government bureaucracy, said Brian Darling of the conservative Heritage Foundation. He suggested reforming entitlements and cutting funding to programs like the National Endowment for the Arts.
“We just don’t have the money to pay for all these programs,” he said.
Bachmann signs the pledge
Pfeiffer was asked Monday why the White House would respond so strongly to legislation if there was virtually no likelihood that it would be passed.
“This is more than just a vote in Congress,” he said. “This is becoming one of the core parts of the economic policy of the Republican Party.”
“Cut, Cap and Balance” has become a rallying cry for conservatives in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail. In the Congress, 126 members have signed the “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge, committing to oppose debt limit increases unless a bill this one is passed.
Ten Republicans running for president have signed the pledge, including Bachmann, who signed it Monday.
Bachmann has said she won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling, insisting that the federal government has enough funding to operate without a higher borrowing rate. And despite signing the pledge, it still remains unclear as to whether Bachmann will support Tuesday’s legislation because it misses one critical factor: a repeal of Obama’s health care reform law.
“In signing the pledge, I am adding a line,” Bachmann said. “I also pledge that along with cutting spending, putting in place enforceable spending caps, and passing a balanced budget amendment, we must repeal and defund Obamacare.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.