House rejects Reid debt-ceiling plan after tense floor debate

The House on Saturday afternoon rejected a debt-ceiling plan from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) after a contentious debate in which Democrats accused Republicans of setting up the bill to fail.

The House voted 173-246 on the bill, short of a majority and well short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage, which was required because Republicans brought up the bill under a suspension of House rules. Every Republican voted no, along with 11 Democrats.

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There was some discussion among Democrats of voting "present" to protest the vote and show it up as a political stunt by Republicans, but ultimately all voting members voted for or against the measure.

"I believe my side of the aisle will overwhelmingly say yes, not because they like this bill, but because they believe it is a compromise that can work," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.

Still, Democratic leaders were furious about how Republicans staged the vote. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Republicans were doing their "level best" to deal with the crisis, but she said today's vote belies that.

"How can it be on the level if we're bringing a $2.5 trillion bill to the floor, under suspension, the same way we might bring naming a post office?" she asked. "Why is it brought under suspension, which requires a two-thirds vote, guaranteeing that it will not prevail? Not on the level."

Pelosi took tougher shots at Republicans toward the end of her remarks. The atmosphere was tense during debate, with both speakers often drawing boos from members of the opposing party.

"I think this bill is perfect in its absurdity," she said of Boehner's bill that was approved Friday night. "His bill is perfectly absurd."

Pelosi also accused Boehner and Republicans of choosing to "go to the dark side" by putting forward a bill on Friday that was doomed to fail in the Senate.

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.), who managed debate for Republicans, said his staff had urged him several times during the debate to strike the words of some Democrats from the record.

"In the name of civility I chose not to, because we have a very serious issue that needs to be addressed," Dreier said. "And it's before us, and we need to make sure that in the next several hours we effectively address it."

Because Boehner did not speak, Dreier was the target of several Democrats who said the vote was an attempt to put the Senate in a weaker position in House-Senate talks on a final compromise that many are hoping can be struck this weekend.

"It's very clear what you're doing here," Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said. "Mr. Reid wants to sit and work with Mr. McConnell. What you're trying to do is to make sure that a signal is sent to the Senate: 'Don't bother.'"

When Dreier rejected that by saying the House vote would help clarify the process in the Senate, Levin shot back, "Mr. Dreier, that is pernicious nonsense."

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) called the process a "joke ... It's a disgrace. It's an insult to the American people."

McGovern asked Dreier on Friday not to make a political point by calling up Reid's bill under a suspension of the rules. Dreier said on the floor that the House brought up the bill at the request of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He also said that, while Reid has said his bill is the only one that can pass, Reid has refused to allow a vote Friday night or early Saturday afternoon.

"Since Senator Reid happens to believe that his measure is the only one that can pass both houses of Congress, we are going to let him know when we defeat it here in the House of Representatives that it is not the plan that can gain broad support in the House and the Senate," Dreier said.

Others used the debate to criticize the lack of leadership from President Obama. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who is campaigning to run against Obama next year, said only Republicans have put forward plans to resolve the debt crisis and called on the president to engage in the process.

"Now is the time for the president to show leadership," she said. "And the only leadership that he's showing is one that's saying 'tsk, tsk, tsk,' trying to bring us to the brink, when in fact we're trying to be responsible and bring this to a successful conclusion," she said. 

But Democrats accused Republicans of failing to offer any compromise in the talks. "You have not moved a single centimeter towards compromise with our side of the aisle," Hoyer said. "Not a single centimeter."