Debt ceiling: Is new GOP plan a step forward or a waste of time?

House Republicans will vote on a plan Tuesday that would link raising the debt ceiling to passage of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. It has virtually no chance of passing the Senate and President Obama has said he would veto it.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney discusses the debt ceiling negotiations during his daily press briefing on Monday.

The White House is stepping up its efforts to cast a new Republican plan to raise the debt ceiling as an unrealistic and partisan ploy that will delay serious negotiations until the end of the week.

House Republicans are set to introduce a bill Tuesday that would require passage of a constitutional amendment to balance the budget before the debt ceiling could be raised. The so-called cut, cap, and balance bill would almost certainly fail in the Senate, and the president has said he would veto it, leading to charges that Republicans are merely trying to hold a vote that will provide them with political cover among tea partyers and budget hardliners.

House Republicans have countered that the president has spent weeks pushing for a "grand bargain" that includes tax increases that could not pass the House. "As President Obama has not put forth a plan that can garner 218 votes in the House, I’d caution him against so hastily dismissing cut, cap, and balance," House majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said.

Cut, cap, and balance would cut 2012 spending by $111 billion, cap future spending at less than 20 percent of gross domestic product by 2021 (it is currently at 24 percent), and require the passage of a balanced-budget amendment by Congress and the states, since it would change the US Constitution. The influential conservative group Club for Growth is raising the pressure on Republicans by warning that it will penalize any legislators who don't vote for cut, cap, and balance – marking them down on its scorecards.

The White House has called the bill an "empty political statement."

Asked why the White House has been pushing back hard on a piece of legislation all but doomed to fail, Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told reporters on a conference call: "This is more than just a vote in Congress. This is one of the core elements of the Republican Party's philosophy.... I suspect this is a debate we will be having for a very long time."

The White House, however, does not see the House's actions Tuesday as fatal to efforts to raise the debt ceiling.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday that "Americans should not be concerned" about a potential government default on Social Security checks and other domestic obligations.

A bid to raise the debt ceiling through an arcane legislative procedure – suggested by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky and now being revised by Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada – shows signs of gaining traction.

While the president is still seeking a large deal, "We don’t have the luxury anymore of pursuing one [solution] only," Mr. Carney said. "We have to be sure that there’s a mechanism in place that, no matter what happens, the United States will not default.”

The president has long pointed to Friday as the deadline to have a deal worked out. He has said Congress will need time to pass any legislation before the Aug. 2 default date.

Senator Reid announced Monday that the Senate would stay in session until it reached a debt-ceiling accord.

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