Earlier today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2560, the Republican posturing bill that sets an arbitrary cap on federal spending and mandates immediate cuts to spending on discretionary spending (mostly social programs and infrastructure spending). In addition, H.R. 2560 mandates that the House and Senate approve a "balanced budget" amendment to the US Constitution before the debt ceiling can be raised.
The bill passed by a vote that was almost completely along party lines. All five AZ Republicans voted for the bill (all five were also cosponsors), while AZ Democrats Raul Grijalva and Ed Pastor opposed it, and Gabrielle Giffords was absent).
The "balanced budget" amendment measures mentioned are H.J. Res. 56, S.J. Res 10, and H.J. Res. 1. All have a budget IMbalance clause in them - a requirement that measures that raise taxes or otherwise increase revenue need a 2/3 majority to pass each chamber of Congress.
That's the same clause that has destroyed fiscal stability in Arizona, California, and a number of other states. It has very effectively blocked any moves to increase revenues, whether through tax rate hikes or through simple closure of loopholes, yet allows for the passage of practically permanent tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
All of this, including the brinkmanship over increasing the federal debt limit, is geared toward forcing a showdown over federal spending.
Except that the Republicans in the House are already in a position to cut spending any way they want, and have been since January.
Under Article 1, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution, the House controls the purse strings, and the Republicans control the House.
If they want to cut federal spending and decrease taxes, then they can just pass a budget with less spending and more tax cuts.
Of course, that would mean standing up and explaining why tax breaks for owners of corporate jets are more important than education, or why massive tax credits for oil companies are needed more than the infrastructure need to clean up the messes that oil companies leave wherever they go (like all over the Gulf Coast).
They don't want to do that - they've been getting their butts handed to them in special elections since they made it clear that their intent was to leverage their majority status in the US House into a complete dismantling of the country's social safety net. They want to funnel the public treasury away from the public and into corporate coffers, but they know if they are up front about that fact, they'll lose their jobs (and probably undercut the chances of a Republican winning the White House in 2012).
Hence, the scheme to distract people into swallowing cuts to Social Security (which has nothing to do with the budget, other than the annual siphoning of money from Social Security's trust fund into the general fund), Medicaid (which is funded by a special payroll tax) and education (which only secures the country's future, which is something that any government of any country is supposed to protect and nurture).
They're hoping to use the threat of economic armageddon brought on by a failure to increase the debt ceiling (something that even Ronald Reagan, the late Republican icon, thought was the responsible thig to do) to keep people focused on that issue instead of the gutting of America's social safety net and physical infrastructure.
I have no idea if the debt ceiling will actually be raised, but if it is, they'll wait until the last possible moment to do so.
And if it isn't, they'll blame President Obama for the Republican-engineered destruction of the economy.