In the latest iteration of the ongoing budget battle in Washington, a handful of conservative senators are threatening to vote against - if not filibuster a vote for - raising the national debt limit, just weeks before the national Treasury is expected to hit its limit.
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, a prominent Florida Tea Party freshman, came out against authorizing an increase to the limit, arguing that doing so would be "putting off the tough decisions until after the next election."
"We cannot afford to continue waiting. This may be our last chance to force Washington to tackle the central economic issue of our time," wrote Rubio. "I will vote to defeat an increase in the debt limit unless it is the last one we ever authorize and is accompanied by a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid."
Rubio is among a growing number of Republicans who are vowing to vote against raising the debt ceiling unless conservatives are granted a strict series of concessions - including, in many cases, a constitutional amendment requiring the government to balance the budget.
According to projections by the Treasury, the U.S. government is expected to hit its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling between April 15 and May 31. If Congress does not approve an increase to the limit, the federal government could default on its bonds for the first time in history, and Social Security and Medicare checks would likely see delays as a result of the government's inability to make payments to agencies.
In an interview earlier this year, White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee warned that failing to raise the debt limit could be "catastrophic."
"If we hit the debt ceiling, that's ... essentially defaulting on our obligations, which is totally unprecedented in American history," he said in a January interview with ABC's "This Week." "The impact on the economy would be catastrophic."
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has also warned of the potentially dire impact of the U.S. government defaulting on its payments - including the imposition of "a substantial tax on all Americans." He also argued that the resulting damage to the economy could be "potentially much more harmful than the effects of the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009."
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a Tea Party member, said he plans to filibuster a vote on the measure unless granted a "very permanent and very binding" concession.
"That's my intention, to filibuster it," Lee told supporters, according to the Hill. "The concession would [have to] be something very significant, very permanent and very binding, like a balanced-budget amendment -- and passage of it, not just a vote."
Lee says he will vote against the bill either way.
Sen. Jim DeMint, the conservative Tea Party Republican from South Carolina, said he would "probably work with" Lee on the filibuster unless the balanced budget amendment was passed.
"I'm not going to give any consent to move ahead with a debt-ceiling increase," he said on Tuesday. "The only way I'm going to work with them is if we pass a balanced-budget amendment before we have that vote."
Republican Sen. John Cornyn, of Texas, told the conservative publication Human Events last week that passing a balanced budget amendment would allow voters to "know, with very stark clarity, who is for a balanced budget and who is not, and it could have a big impact on the 2012 elections."
The passage of such a constitutional amendment, however, is highly unlikely, as it would require both a two-thirds majority in the House and the Democratically-controlled Senate, and ratification in at least 38 states, in order to gain passage. (For context, the Constitution has been amended only 27 times since its ratification in 1788.)
Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told CNNa balanced budget amendment "would virtually ensure that an economic downturn would end up as a deep depression, by erasing any real ability of the government to pursue countercyclical fiscal policies and in fact demanding the opposite, at the worst possible time."
"It is about the most irresponsible action imaginable," he added.
Nevertheless, a vote for a similar balanced budget amendment in 1997 came up only one vote short.