Friday, July 29, 2011
House passes GOP debt limit plan!
Twenty-four hours later than planned — and only after a change to mollify conservative Republicans — House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, put together enough votes to rescue his debt limit fix Friday.
The 218-210 vote, along party lines, came four days before President Obama says he'll run out of the borrowed money that keeps the federal government from paying its bills.
The House vote kicks the issue once again to the slower-moving Senate, where rules make it all but impossible to vote out a plan before Monday.
"I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the president of the United States," Boehner said, rallying the House to vote for his plan. "It's time for our colleagues across the aisle to put something on the table! Tell us where you are!"
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. vowed to do just that. He had been waiting on the House plan all week, prepared to immediately vote it down.
"No matter how long Republicans delay, the deadline will not move. We have hours — I repeat, hours — to act," Reid said, announcing his plan Friday morning to move forward with or without the House. "This is likely our last chance to save this nation from default."
Under Senate rules, the earliest a vote could take place on that plan would likely be Monday or even Tuesday — the day the Obama Administration says it will run out of borrowed money. That would give the House just hours to agree to the Senate version and send the bill to the president.
President Obama repeated his now-daily warning that Congress is "running out of time" to increase the government's $14.3 trillion debt limit and avoid defaulting on its loan payments. He urged a bipartisan — and long-term — compromise. "We can end it with a simple vote -- a vote that Democrats and Republicans have been taking for decades, a vote that the leaders in Congress have taken for decades," he said.
Despite the entrenched positions, the two plans aren't far apart on their budget numbers.
The immediate spending cuts offered by the House and Senate plans are almost identical, according to a side-by-side comparison of the two bills produced by the Congressional Budget Office Friday. The House plan would save $917 billion over 10 years. Not counting savings from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — savings that House Republicans have derided as a "gimmick" — the Senate plan would save $908 billion.
Both plans would set up a congressional commission to look for more savings.
So the biggest issue left to be resolved is the size of the debt limit increase. The Senate plan calls for a $2.4 trillion increase in debt limit, enough to push the next debt limit vote into 2013, after the next election. The House plan would raise it by $900 billion, allowing the government to pay its bills for about six more months, but with another $1.6 trillion increase possible if the House and Senate agree — by a two-thirds vote — to a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
That last provision was the key for Boehner to bring reluctant conservatives back on board, after the speaker was forced to delay a vote on the plan Thursday night because he didn't have the 216 votes he needed.
One key pickup Friday was Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a fiscal conservative who wanted future debt limit increases tied to the balanced budget amendment.
Still, Every Democrat and 22 conservative Republicans — half of them freshmen — voted no. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, led the conservative opposition, saying he didn't trust Congress to keep its promise to pass a balanced budget amendment before raising the debt ceiling in six months.
But the change cost Congress another day, as the House spend Thursday night and most of Friday debating rule changes to allow quick passage of the revised plan.
House Democrats said Republicans were wasting time, causing a "self-inflicted wound" on the country. "It is a manufactured crisis," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. "So you have to ask yourself: Why? Why are they doing this to the country? Why are they playing kamikaze pilot with the American economy?"