It took the full weight of leadership and an 11th hour capitulation to a band of fiscal conservatives to secure enough support for House Republicans to send a debt-ceiling bill off to fail in the Senate.
As such, just four days before the United States is scheduled to begin defaulting on its debts, Washington remained mired in deadlock with lawmakers holding firm to intractable positions on their deficit-reduction conditions required to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
The House has narrowly passed, 218-210, a bill the Senate cannot support and the White House has vowed to veto. The Senate is scheduled to take up a proposal this weekend that cannot pass the House, despite White House support. And neither leaders nor aides in either party or either chamber are fully confident the debt ceiling debate can be resolved by Aug. 2.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, again took on Democrats and the White House in remarks on the House floor on Friday. “I stuck my neck out a mile to try and get an agreement with the president of the United States,” he said, conceding that he had put revenues on the table to find a compromise but, he argued, Democrats failed to offer sufficient compromises to reduce the deficit. “Tell us where you are!” Boehner said, to raucous cheers from his rank-and-file.
But House Republicans have barely been able to find compromise within their own ranks, let alone with Senate Democrats or the White House.
Boehner suffered a blow on Thursday when a vote on his debt-ceiling plan was pulled when it became apparent late in the evening that Republicans did not have the votes necessary to pass his bill in the face of unanimous Democratic opposition. At least 18 lawmakers held out because they wanted tougher language included in the bill on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that leadership has acknowledged stands no chance of clearing the Senate. But in the end, leadership was forced to bend to their demands and approve a bill that is even more deeply opposed by Democrats. In a notable display of silence, no House Republican leader made any public statement or appearance following the postponement announcement on Thursday. Boehner held no press availabilities on Friday.
The speaker’s proposal passed on a party line vote with 22 Republicans an all Democrats opposing the proposal. The vote was not without some drama. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, maneuvered the House floor speaking one-on-one with lawmakers as the vote neared 210, including Reps. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, Billy Long, R-Mo., and Dan Lungren, R-Calif., who all voted “yes” shortly after speaking with McCarthy. The bill reached 218, the amount required for passage, with just under four minutes left in the vote. The chamber quieted as lawmakers watched the board to see where the final GOP holdouts would go. South Carolina Republicans, who proved particularly stubborn to entreaties from leadership, waited until the final seconds of the vote to cast their “no” votes. They included Reps. Tim Scott, Joe Wilson, Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, and Mick Mulvaney.
Boehner’s legislation would reduce the deficit by $915 billion over 10 years and increase the federal debt ceiling by $900 billion, which would carry the United States through early next year. The bill would allow for an additional $1.5 trillion increase in the debt ceiling contingent on two outcomes: Congress enacting further deficit reductions in the orbit of $1.8 trillion by December and a Balanced Budget Amendment being sent to the states. The latter condition is what was added on Friday. The demand, however, is unrealistic as the two-thirds support required to send a constitutional amendment to the states does not exist in either chamber, so the House bill conditions the second debt increase on a proposition that will not occur.
Boehner’s bill now heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has pledged its defeat. Instead though, the Senate voted to table a motion to approve the Boehner bill, proving it can't pass, but at the same time keeping it alive as a vehicle if a compromise between the Senate and House bills emerges. All Senate Democratic Caucus members oppose the Boehner bill. Reid has offered a counter proposal to reduce the deficit by $2.2 trillion over 10 years and provide for just one increase in the debt ceiling through the 2012 elections, which the White House favors but House Republicans oppose.
Reid was set to file cloture on his bill setting up an early Sunday vote. Reid’s bill will not survive Sunday’s cloture vote without GOP support. Some GOP senators have been critical of their own party’s handling of the debt ceiling, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others have suggested they are not willing to hold the line for House Republicans. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Friday that he supports extending the debt limit beyond the 2012 election and that “having these debates in the middle of an economic downturn that we’re having right now is not healthy.”
President Obama said Thursday that he was now relying on Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to negotiate a compromise that can pass the House and he can sign. While all parties involved agree that that is what needs to happen, there is no agreement on how to get it done.
“It’s quite entirely possible that we could not reach an agreement or get it implemented by August two,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., voicing the growing concern that after months of negotiations to head off a worst-case scenario, that is where Washington will end up.