Americans Skeptical on Deal as Debt Passes All-Time High

Wednesday, 16 Nov 2011 02:20 PM

By Paul Scicchitano

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Even as the national debt hit an all-time high of $15 trillion and rising this afternoon, most Americans doubt that the congressional supercommittee will reach a deficit reduction agreement by its Thanksgiving eve deadline.

Almost 80 percent think it is somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely, that the bipartisan committee will reach agreement on a plan to reduce the federal budget by the Nov. 23 deadline, according to a CNN/ORC International Poll released today.

Meanwhile, Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., said Republicans are close to the critical 290 votes need to pass his balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. Such an amendment, which would be subject to ratification by 38 states, would bar Congress from spending more than it receives in revenues unless three-fifths of the House and the Senate vote to do so.

The House is expected to take up the issue on Friday. “We’re working again in a very bipartisan way to try to secure those 290 votes. It is definitely a steep hill to climb to get two-thirds of the members of the House to support it,” Goodlatte said on C-SPAN. “We’re close, but we’re not there yet.”

Goodlatte’s H.J. Res. 2 is nearly identical to a measure that passed the House in 1995 but failed in the Senate by a single vote. It is less onerous than an alternate version he also introduced, which would be a tougher sell on both sides of the aisle but several Republicans prefer.

“This is a good strong amendment. It’s proven because it’s passed the House before, come close in the Senate,” Goodlatte said.

“The members overwhelmingly agree that they wanted to try to do something rather than simply make a statement about the amendment that they preferred the most, knowing that that amendment has no chance of passage now and unlikely it will ever have a chance of passage simply because it doesn’t draw the kind of bipartisan support that’s necessary for a constitutional amendment.”

The measure will need the support of 48 of the 193 Democrats in the House, and perhaps 50, depending on the number of Republicans who vote against it.

The Obama administration issued a statement Tuesday opposing the amendment. Members of Congress should “move beyond politics as usual and find bipartisan common ground to restore us to a sustainable fiscal path,” the statement declared.

White House officials contend that the amendment could impose serious risks on the economy and force cuts to essential programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

The debt ceiling agreement reached last summer that set up the bipartisan supercommittee commissioned with reducing the debt by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade also required that Congress vote on a balanced budget amendment.

According to the CNN/ORC telephone poll of 1,036 adults Nov. 11-13, 42 percent say they would blame Republicans in Congress if the supercommittee fails to meet its deadline, with only 32 percent pointing a finger at Democrats. One-fifth say they would blame both parties.

“This is not the first time a plurality would blame the GOP for congressional inaction," CNN polling director Keating Holland said. "In March, 46 percent said they would hold the Republicans responsible if the government shut down. And in July, 51 percent said they would blame the GOP more than President Obama if the debt ceiling were not raised."

A higher margin of independents — 40 percent to 24 percent — would blame Republicans more than Democrats, with a quarter saying they would blame both parties.

If a majority of the 12-member panel does reach an agreement, Congress has one month, until Dec. 23, to vote on the deal. A failure to pass any agreement will result in $1.2 trillion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts starting in 2013, evenly divided between defense and non-defense spending. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned members of Congress this week that such cuts could cripple the military.

During the past 50 years, Congress has balanced the budget only six times, said Goodlatte, who credits Thomas Jefferson with the idea to eliminate government borrowing via a constitutional amendment as far back as 1798.

“It’s resulted in a $15 trillion national debt. And in times of crisis the nation has rallied to do the right thing,” he said. “But the problem is that we’ve had too many years of bipartisan support for not balancing the budget and simply borrowing money and kicking the can down the road to future generations.”

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