GOP touts ‘cut, cap and balance’; Boehner considers fallback plan

House Republicans touted their Cut, Cap and Balance Act, which would raise the debt ceiling even as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) acknowledged that GOP leaders were looking at a “plan B” to avoid a U.S. default.

The House will vote Tuesday evening on a conservative proposal that conditions a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling with $111 billion in immediate cuts, an annual cap on spending and congressional passage of a balanced-budget amendment. 

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The legislation faces a presidential veto and is considered a non-starter in the Democratic-controlled Senate. House leaders took pains Tuesday to defend a vote on the proposal two weeks before the U.S. could default on its debt, after Aug. 2.

“I’m not going to give up hope on ‘cut, cap and balance,’ but I do think it’s responsible for us to look at what Plan B would look like,” Boehner said at a Capitol press conference following a closed-door GOP conference meeting. “And the leadership had a long conversation [Monday] about Plan B. There are a lot of options available to us. There have been no decisions made as yet.”

The Speaker made no specific mention of a fallback plan — now gaining steam in the Senate — that would contain modest spending cuts and grant President Obama more authority to raise the debt ceiling through 2012. House Republicans said there was little discussion of that idea, offered by Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), in the Tuesday conference meeting, but that Boehner had described it as a “final option.”

Rank-and-file Republicans were enthused about the vote on “cut, cap and balance,” saying it finally allowed them to claim the higher ground in the roiling debt-ceiling debate.

“I’m fired up now more than I’ve ever been,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a co-author of the proposal.

For GOP leaders, however, the proposal brought familiar questions about why the House should advance a measure that appears doomed in the Senate. Democratic leaders have taken to calling the legislation a “duck, dodge and dismantle” plan that requires cuts to government more irresponsible than those in the House GOP budget.

“I’m not going to go out of my way to say or predict that the Senate can’t pass this,” Boehner said. “There is nothing the Senate can’t do when they want to. I just believe in the current environment, anything’s possible.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that Republicans wanted “to make sure that we’re doing something significant.”

“Right now we’re making sure we don’t default, but it’s equally important to send the signal that we are actually going to do something meaningful to address this problem.”

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) pleaded with Obama to embrace the balanced-budget amendment, saying historians would give him, and not Republicans, credit for solving the nation’s debt crisis.

“This is historic. It will be his,” Ellmers said. “They won’t remember the Republicans who put forward this bill. They will remember President Barack Obama, who amended the Constitution to put in place a balanced-budget amendment.”

If two-thirds of the House and Senate approve the amendment, it would go directly to the states for ratification, bypassing the president.