Another week has passed, and Congress still is searching for a resolution to the debt-ceiling issue. While the bipartisan Gang of Six continues to remain silent on the details of its plan, other members of the Senate have stepped in to fill the vacuum. On the GOP side, perhaps the most significant contributor has been Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.
Senator Corker has made passing his Commitment to American Prosperity, or CAP, Act or similar legislation a pre-condition for voting to raise the debt-ceiling limit. His bill aims to reduce federal spending to 20.6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years by cutting spending programs. If Congress failed to do so, the act would authorize the Office of Management and Budget, which is part of the Executive Branch, to push through cuts by itself. These cuts, then, could only be overturned through a two-thirds vote in Congress.
While Congress has been out of session, Corker has been touring his home state to discuss the nation's fiscal situation, with his presentation "America's Debt Crisis." Supporters of the plan include Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who will be one of the GOP representatives at bipartisan deficit talks with Vice President Joe Bide, and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who will lend bipartisan cover.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), however, is a strong opponent of the bill, so the chances of it passing the Senate - or even coming up for a vote - are limited. Since the plan takes tax increases as a tool for deficit reduction off the table, Corker's ability to gain bipartisan support from others is limited.
Manchin is one of the more conservative Senate Democrats, who has broken with the White House on other key issues like climate change legislation and spending. Critics on the right contend that Corker is just trying to fend off a primary challenge in Tennessee, where various Tea Party groups have voiced skepticism over his position as a conservative.
Of greater significance, though, is the difficulty the White House and Reid are having in maintaining party unity raising the debt ceiling, which is an unpopular issue. Conservative Democrats, along with Democrats from swing and normally Republican states, have publicly worried over what voting to raise the debt ceiling would do for their election prospects next year.
The vast majority of Senators up for re-election in 2012 are Democrats. If conservative Democrats grow increasingly willing to go against the party leadership's wishes, the party likely will find the terms of the vote to raise the debt ceiling moving closer to the political right.
Representative Dean Heller Appointed to U.S. Senate
Following Senator John Ensign's (R-NV) announcement that he will leave office early in May, Governor Brian Sandoval (R) appointed Representative Dean Heller (R-NV) to fill the seat once Ensign resigns. Heller announced in March that he planned to run for this Senate seat, so he will have an advantage running as an incumbent when he runs for re-election next year.
Heller currently represents Nevada's Second District and won election for the third time this past November. Under the 17th Amendment, governors have the power to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat for their state by appointing a replacement.
Sandoval's appointment was not a surprise, because the Governor previously endorsed Heller's primary bid for the seat. Before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Heller served as a member of the Nevada State Assembly and as Nevada's Secretary of State. Prior to his entry into politics, Heller worked at the Pacific Stock Exchange.
Heller said he felt "humbled," adding "There is a lot of hard work ahead to get our state and nation moving in the right direction. There is no question that our nation needs to change the way we do business if we are going to get our economy back on track and get Nevadans working again."
Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller said a special election must be held to fill Heller's current House seat. Once Heller resigns, Sandoval will have seven days to call for a special election and select the election date. The election must take place within 180 days of Heller's resignation.