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GOP intensifies push for a balanced budget amendment. Why now?

Republicans in Congress want a vote on a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution by mid-July. It would precede any vote to raise the national debt limit.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, speaks with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) a member of the Senate Banking Committee and the Joint Economic Committee (r.) on Capitol Hill in Washington, on June 29.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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As President Obama renewed calls for a “balanced approach” to deficit talks, Senate Republicans on Wednesday launched a bid to get Congress to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution by mid-July – ahead of a vote on Mr. Obama's request to raise the national debt limit.

The political odds are formidable. While all 47 Senate Republicans back the measure, at least 20 Democrats would be needed to meet the two-thirds majority threshold. So far, no Democrat has endorsed it. Even if Congress were to approve the amendment, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the states – a process that can take up to seven years.

But even a failed drive for a constitutional amendment gives Republicans a rallying point in the last crucial weeks of negotiation with the White House over raising the national debt limit.

“What Washington needs isn’t more revenue but a “spending straightjacket,” said Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in a floor speech on Wednesday. “Senators can talk all day long about the importance of balancing the books and living within our means. A vote in favor of the Balanced Budget Amendment will show that they mean it,” he added. “A vote against it will show that they don’t.”

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