By The Hill Staff - 07/29/11 06:08 PM EDT
House Republicans will link passage of a balanced-budget amendment to Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) last-ditch debt-ceiling plan, which GOP lawmakers said would move the measure to passage in a high-stakes vote later on Friday.
Republican lawmakers seemed confident after a vital Friday morning conference meeting that the tweaked Boehner proposal would pass muster with a restive conference.
“I’m smiling,” Boehner said after perhaps the most crucial conference meeting of his speakership.
It would also mandate that the second hike of the ceiling could only occur after a balanced-budget amendment passed both chambers of Congress and was sent to the states for ratification. Previously, a vote on such an amendment was all that was required for that second increase, which under the Boehner plan would likely be necessary early next year.
But in adding the balanced-budget amendment and postponing the vote on Boehner’s initial measure, several GOP lawmakers warned their party had given up valuable leverage to Senate Democrats in the final days of talks to raise the debt ceiling by the Aug. 2 deadline.
“The fact of the matter is, because of the dust-up yesterday, we’ve lost some leverage,” Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), a close Boehner ally, said after Friday’s conference meeting.
“You could say it’s remote, but there was a chance that the package yesterday, if it had been successfully voted out, would have been adopted by the Senate and signed by the president. I think everybody acknowledges that’s not going to happen with this piece of legislation.”
A spokeswoman for House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a post on Twitter said the House could vote between 5:45 and 6:15 p.m. on the measure.
The bill is likely to meet a quick death in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had already announced this week that all 53 members of his caucus opposed Boehner’s plan. That was before it required the Senate to pass a balanced-budget amendment in the coming months.
Even before news of the Boehner tweak started leaking out, Reid and President Obama were urging Republicans to join with them to find a bipartisan deal before the Aug. 2 deadline. The Senate majority leader also said Friday that he would bring his competing debt-ceiling plan, which would raise the debt ceiling through next year’s election, to the floor for a likely weekend vote no matter what the House did.
“There are plenty of ways out of this mess, but we are almost out of time,” the president said in a White House appearance. “We need to reach a compromise by Tuesday so that our country will have the ability to pay its bills on time, as we always have.”
Republicans’ Friday turnaround came about just hours after GOP leaders scrapped a scheduled Thursday vote, choosing to regroup this morning after pizza-fueled arm-twisting sessions left them shy of the necessary support.
Several lawmakers who were undecided or leaning against backing the Boehner plan quickly jumped onboard Friday morning – including Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), Jeff Landry (R-La.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). In the end, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) predicted the balanced-budget amendment change would bring 10 to 20 more GOP members on board.
“The American people have strongly renewed their November calls of bringing fiscal sanity to Washington,” Landry, a Tea Party-backed freshman, said in a statement. “I am blessed to be a vehicle driving their wishes to fruition.”
Even some of South Carolina’s GOP members, such as Reps. Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy, appeared much more open to getting behind the Speaker’s plan. Some Republicans had become frustrated with the Palmetto State’s Republicans, who are strongly influenced by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
“It's moving in the right direction,” said Scott, who had been a definite "no" on Thursday, but all but said he would support the Boehner plan on Friday. “The BBA addition is very important.”
“A lot of people are very impressed with the Speaker's commitment to working with his conference, and that will be reflected in the vote," Scott said.
Some Republican members, while vowing to remain behind the Boehner plan, acknowledged the inability to move Thursday on the initial proposal would cost the party.
“We burned a timeout yesterday,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark), adopting a football metaphor. “We didn’t have enough players on the field. Period.”
“I think it’s an understandable conclusion that a lot of people can make, that we’ve weakened our position a little bit. Can we be back on the offense? I think we will do everything we can to do that today,” Womack, who remains a supporter of the Boehner plan, added.
In fact, some GOP senators appeared to agree with that take, with minority whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) saying Friday on Fox News that passing a balanced-budget amendment is "probably a bridge too far in the Democrat-controlled Senate.”
As it stands, the Boehner framework would still pair a $900 billion increase in the debt limit with $917 billion in cuts and condition a subsequent increase in borrowing authority on congressional enactment of a $1.8 trillion deficit-reduction package.
Republican leadership had already scheduled two balanced-budget amendments for votes this week, including a version that attracted significant Democratic support in the mid-1990s and a stricter measure that would require two-thirds approval from both chambers to raise taxes and cap spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product.
The change also won plaudits from the Club for Growth, a key conservative group that had been strongly opposed to the Boehner framework.
House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (D-Calif.) has also introduced Reid’s proposal – which the Congressional Budget Office said would cut $2.2 trillion over a decade – as a possible backup plan, with just days left until the debt-ceiling deadline.
Written by Bernie Becker with reporting by Erik Wasson, Russell Berman, Molly K. Hooper, Mike Lillis, Peter Schroeder and Cristina Marcos.
This story was posted at 11:12 a.m. and updated at 2:08 p.m.