In the chess match between President Obama and Congressional Republicans over the debt ceiling, Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) sees only one move the GOP can make to get checkmate: Pass the “cut, cap, and balance” pledge in the House now.
His plan offers a three-part solution to our fiscal crisis: First, cut spending to drop the deficit to $900 billion — compared to this year’s projected $1.6 trillion deficit. Second, cap spending to put the federal government on a path to a balanced budget within ten years. Third, approve a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution that limits spending to about 18 percent of gross domestic product and requires a two-thirds-majority vote in Congress to raise taxes.
“The House needs to pass that package and send it over to the Senate before this crisis’s deadline, so that we can tell the American people, ‘We’re not causing this problem. We’ve given the president the debt ceiling. All he has to do is agree to let states decide about a balanced-budget amendment,’” DeMint tells National Review Online during a visit to its New York office.
The senator believes it will be easier to get 67 votes in the Senate for a balanced-budget amendment than it will be to get 60 votes for significant spending cuts. And getting Democrats to cut spending at all will be a real chore.
“The Democrats will not give us anything that will not humiliate and shame us, unless we make them,” he warns. “It’s a stare down, and a lot of Republicans don’t have a taste for it.” Yet DeMint sees no other choice: “If Democrats won’t cut public broadcasting, if they won’t cut Planned Parenthood, how do we expect them to really cut anything that means anything?”
He reminds Republicans that Democrats walked into “a public-opinion buzz saw” to pass Obamacare. And he predicts, “If we don’t pass anything, then we’re on defense the whole time.”
The challenge, he admits, is that many conservatives in the House have promised never to vote for an increase in the debt ceiling. DeMint counsels them, “Either we raise it on our terms, or it’s going to be raised on their terms and we’re going to be humiliated.”
DeMint is in town promoting his new book, The Great American Awakening: Two Years that Changed America, Washington, and Me. It recounts the Tea Party’s rise in the conservative movement and his concurrent rise in the Senate. One example of this trend is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), whose fear of a primary challenge in 2012 has prompted him to vote more conservatively lately. Tea Party favorite Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), DeMint says, “has two votes; every time he votes one way, Orrin’s going to vote the same way.”
In that sense, DeMint is encouraged, but ultimately he worries the GOP won’t have the guts to stare Democrats down. And if it doesn’t, it’ll be a shame, he says, because “the party of freedom has less courage than the party of socialism.”