As the debt ceiling talks drag on, many Republicans are suggesting a new condition for raising the amount that the federal government can borrow: the passage of a balanced budget amendment. Twelve senators and thirty-six members of Congress have signed a pledge to tie any debt limit increase to the enactment of such an amendment, and the House now plans to vote on one next week. However, this idea recently came under fire from an unlikely source – former House speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. While his campaign may be struggling, Gingrich is still eager to weigh in on the debt debate and was willing to question the wisdom of making a balanced budget amendment part of the negotiations.
FrumForum participated in a recent conference on Friday afternoon in which Gingrich was asked whether he supports the idea of making the passage of a budget amendment a condition for a debt limit hike. “To make it the only litmus test of whether to vote for the debt ceiling, I think, is dangerous,” he said. “Frankly, it ultimately forces the leadership to go to Democrats for votes, which is a bad thing to do.” Gingrich noted that Republicans are unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority in each house needed to approve a constitutional amendment, pointing out that “even when we had the full support of the American people in 1995 [referring to an effort to pass an amendment when he was speaker], we still fell one vote short in the Senate.”
The former speaker did make clear that he supports a balanced budget amendment and thinks scheduling a vote on it is a good idea, but he wants such a vote mainly in order to embarrass Democrats before the 2012 elections. “They should demand a vote on it in the Senate to put people on the record,” he said. “We need to pick up 12 Democratic seats in the Senate next year, and getting record votes like this is very helpful.”
Despite Gingrich’s reputation for extreme rhetoric, these comments actually form part of a pattern in which he has repeatedly criticized some of the GOP’s more dogmatic positions. The most famous instance of this came when he blasted Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposals, which have since been shown to be extremely unpopular, as “right-wing social engineering.” Gingrich of course got attacked by conservatives for this observation.