As the White House and Speaker John Boehner negotiate a debt-reduction deal, Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), the Republican Study Committee chairman, remains steadfastly opposed to any debt-limit agreement, or at least one that does not send a balanced-budget amendment to the states for ratification. All this week, he has emphasized that “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” the fiscal-reform package authored by the RSC, which includes such an amendment, remains the only viable option for conservatives.
Jordan, a former state-champion wrestler, tells National Review Online that he sees politics as sport: Wins and losses matter, and you pin down your opponent whenever possible. As of late, Jordan has been winning, leading the most influential conservative caucus in the House. On most issues, he needles Republicans to move an inch, or a mile, to the right. In April, he stirred over 50 Republicans to oppose the House leadership’s spending deal with the White House, which kept the government running.
But it has taken a midsummer crisis for Jordan to elbow his way into the upper echelon of the GOP conference, where he has kept House leaders on alert. Jordan is lining up an army of freshmen and Senate Republican hardliners, all of whom are determined to defeat any eleventh-hour blueprint crafted in smoke-filled rooms. The GOP’s only hope, he tells me, is to reject any “grand bargain” and push hard, even past the August 2 debt-limit expiration, for deep cuts. If Republicans buckle, he warns, they will face a revolt not only on Capitol Hill, but at the polls next year.
Jordan argues that “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” the only plan that has passed the House, is also the only plan that could pass the House. For GOP leaders to consider anything besides that legislation would amount to a betrayal, he says, if not of conservative principles then of the party’s bargaining power.
“If the American people can continue to engage, and we can build support, then we have a chance,” Jordan says. “I’ve always felt that. You are seeing the conservative movement coalescing around it. We just have to build this. The American people understand. It’s just common sense. Ideally, you want to avoid any potential hiccups or problems in August, but we also want to stop the debt crisis that’s coming.”
On Tuesday, the House passed “Cut, Cap, and Balance” by a 234–190 vote, creating what Jordan calls a “Gang of 234.” At this point in the negotiations, he believes, those votes matter more than any carrots dangled on Pennsylvania Avenue. He acknowledges that the Senate, which tabled the measure Friday, remains an obstacle. But if Republicans can hold firm, Obama will be forced to accept it as a prerequisite to a debt-limit extension, he predicts.
Jordan says all of this with earnestness, but he is aware that by the hour, Republicans appear to be drifting away from his dogged, no-budge position. Boehner is in talks with the White House; Senate Republicans are mulling the bipartisan debt-reduction deal presented by the “Gang of Six”; Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is preparing a complicated contingency plan that would give the president the power to raise the debt ceiling via a presidential veto. All of those developments, he says, are “terrible,” unnecessary distractions from what he views as the lone solution.
Jordan says it’s time to get serious. “Gimmicks, commissions, kicking the can down the road — we will oppose all of those things,” he adds. In the final days of negotiations, he says, “the idea is to win.” He sees the competing agendas as roadblocks to the balanced-budget amendment. If Republicans really want to champion it, they should help “build the case with the American people, enough to get Democrats to come over and help us pass the balanced-budget amendment with a supermajority,” he says.
“That’s our strategy at the RSC,” Jordan says. “We want to get the win now.” If a debt-limit accord without a balanced-budget amendment is proffered, the same bloc that opposed the Boehner–White House spending deal, he says, will rally in opposition. “Potentially, I think there could be that many or a lot more,” he says. “We are trying to build a big number.”
Jordan sees August 3, the day after the debt-ceiling deadline, as an opportunity, regardless of the doomsday chatter. “I’ve told my colleagues that we have to be willing to stand strong when the bullets start flying, when the president starts talking about the troops and demagogues on Social Security,” he says. “We have to say, no, the facts are this: In the month of August, you have enough money to service the debt, pay Social Security recipients, and pay the men and women who wear our uniform.”
If the House GOP runs scared, fearful of being blamed for default, the chances for a balanced-budget amendment will quickly fade, Jordan says. He implores Republicans to recognize that the public backs the RSC agenda. A CNN poll released Thursday, for instance, shows nearly two-thirds of Americans are broadly supportive of “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” though the poll, it should be noted, did not delve into details.
“Look, do I get that the odds are against us? Yeah, I do,” Jordan says. “But the odds are always against you when you are trying to do big, bold things. That’s life. To accomplish anything of significance or meaning, it’s always hard, never easy. But those are the moments that matter. And this is one of those moments.”
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.