Friday 29 July 2011

Boehner Delays House Vote on Plan to Raise Debt Ceiling

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Speaker John A. Boehner,  flanked by Republican members of the House of Representatives, urged fellow House members to pass his debt ceiling bill on Thursday.
WASHINGTON — House Speaker John A. Boehner abruptly delayed an expected vote on Republican debt ceiling legislation late Thursday as it became clear the Republican leadership did not have the votes needed for passage. Immediately after the vote’s delay, Republican members could be seen streaming in and out of the Speaker’s office as Mr. Boehner continued to work to win their support for the legislation.
Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, who had been opposed to the legislation, emerged from Mr. Boehner’s office to say that the Speaker had once again pressured him to switch his vote.

Mr. Gohmert told reporters that he remained opposed but was now "a bloody, beaten-down ’no.’ ”

The postponement came as lawmakers had nearly finished discussing legislation that would set up a pivotal showdown between the House and the Senate over how to cut spending and increase the debt limit before the Aug. 2 deadline when Treasury Department officials have said the country will run out of authority to borrow money.

As the backroom arm-twisting went on, the House killed time by moving to a series of minor bills naming local post offices from New Jersey to Guam.

Mr. Boehner had spent two days furiously lobbying freshman Republicans for his plan, which would cut federal spending by $917 billion and provide enough borrowing authority to keep the government solvent until January. But Senate Democratic leaders said that they would waste no time rejecting the legislation if it included the short timeline.

In four hours of debate leading up to the expected vote, Republican lawmakers described the bill as the only legislative compromise that can keep the country from defaulting on its debt next week.

“We must act today, approve this bill, and balance the budget for future generations,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas.

Democrats, though, called the bill an abdication of responsibility that would force a second gut-wrenching debate about the debt ceiling in an election year.

“It’s high time that we stop playing Russian Roulette with the American economy and with American jobs,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Legislative maneuvering had become intense on Capitol Hill Thursday as lawmakers in both chambers and in both parties sought to game out a procedural advantage in the days left before the debt ceiling deadline.

There was no immediate reaction from the White House, where officials mindful of the countdown to Aug. 2 scrambled to find out when a House vote might be rescheduled. Though Mr. Obama had threatened to veto the House bill, officials were concerned about it being shelved again given that it would delay the effort to reach an ultimate compromise.
Leaders of both parties and in both chambers said that it was essential to avoid a default on the federal debt, but that was practically all they agreed on.

Before the delay, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said Senate Democrats would move immediately to set aside the House proposal if it wins passage and then take steps to force a vote on Mr. Reid’s own proposal to raise the debt limit through 2012 in exchange for more than $2 trillion in cuts.

“No Democrat will vote for a short-term Band-Aid that would put our economy at risk and put the nation back in this untenable situation a few short months from now,” Mr. Reid said.
But the House Republican leaders said that would put blame for the continuing crisis on the Senate Democrats.

“When the House takes action, the United States Senate will have no more excuses for inaction,” Mr. Boehner said, just before taking his bill to the floor.

“Is this as much as I want? No,” Mr. Boehner told his fellow Republicans. “But it advances our goals and doesn’t violate our principles.”

The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said that a successful compromise would ultimately have to include not only significant spending cuts, but also a commitment to revamp the tax code and entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, and a debt ceiling increase generous enough to last through next year without a reprise of the standoff.

He conceded that the chances were “not great” for a grand compromise before Aug. 2, which the White House has insisted is the deadline for extending the debt ceiling for paying the nation’s bills.

On the House floor, there were some Democrats who continued to call for including some kind of tax increase, like letting the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans lapse, but no matter how events unfold in the days ahead, that seems the unlikeliest of outcomes.

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