By By Russell Berman, Erik Wasson and Bernie Becker - 07/29/11 10:25 PM EDT
House Republicans on Friday narrowly approved legislation authorizing a limited increase in the $14.3 trillion debt limit in exchange for more than $900 billion in spending cuts.
The 218-210 vote occurred nearly a full day after it was originally scheduled as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed to revise the legislation to win enough conservative support to carry the House.
Twenty-two Republicans voted against the bill, which got no Democratic votes.
Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), Boehner's best friend in the House, was the very last vote. He voted "no," as the gavel came down to end the 15-minute vote.
The Republican Budget Control Act faces met a quick demise in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has declared it dead on arrival. The Senate voted 59 to 41 on a motion to table the resolution.
The White House has said President Obama would veto the measure if it ever reached his desk.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), the Democratic National Committee chair, said that the vote was "irresponsible" and "an utter waste of time."
She said that "someone needs to remind them that the Constitution itself was a compromise."
The White House dismissed the vote as "another political exercise" and urged lawmakers to forge a compromise based on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan.
"The bill passed today in the House with exclusively Republican votes would have us face another debt ceiling crisis in just a few months by demanding the Constitution be amended or America defaults," press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. "Now that yet another political exercise is behind us, with time dwindling, leaders need to start working together immediately to reach a compromise that avoids default and lays the basis for balanced deficit reduction."
The House bill's passage escalates pressure on the Senate to take action to raise the debt limit by Treasury's Aug. 2 deadline to avert an unprecedented U.S. default.
By the time the legislation came to a vote, the result was no longer in doubt, but its passage capped days of frenzied scrambling by Republican leaders. Conservatives balked at the level of spending cuts in the original legislation, forcing Boehner to condition a second increase in the debt ceiling on congressional passage of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
A grinning Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the majority whip, said, "It always feels great to get a vote done. It wasn't one vote different than I thought."
Lawmakers emerged from a morning conference meeting saying the change in the bill won between 10 and 20 additional Republican votes, putting it just over the 216 needed for passage.
In an impassioned floor speech shortly before the vote, Boehner said he had made every effort to reach an agreement with the White House and castigated both the Democrat-controlled Senate and the president for refusing to put forward their own detailed plan.
“To the American people, I’d say: We tried our level best,” Boehner said. “We’ve tried to do the right thing by our country, but some people continue to say no.”
His voice rising, the Speaker recounted his effort to forge a grand bargain with Obama to reduce the deficit and overhaul entitlements and the tax code.
“I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the president of the United States,” Boehner said, as Democrats in the chamber jeered. “I stuck my neck out a mile.”
With Republicans cheering, he demanded of the White House: “Put something on the table. Tell us where you are!”
Boehner concluded by urging members of both parties to support the bill “for the sake of the economy” and to “end this crisis now.”
For Boehner, the bill’s passage was a face-saving move after an embarrassing delay. He held no press conference after the vote, seeing the legislation as no cause for celebration.
As passed, the legislation authorizes $900 billion in additional borrowing while reducing the deficit by $917 billion over 10 years. The president could request a second increase in the debt ceiling of up to $1.6 trillion upon passage of the balanced-budget amendment and a separate $1.8 trillion deficit reduction package, to be written by a new “joint committee of Congress.” The initial version of Boehner’s bill required only a vote on a balanced-budget amendment in the House and Senate, not actual passage.
Democrats assailed the bill as an unacceptable short-term measure that would prolong economic uncertainty, and they criticized Republicans for pressing ahead with a vote despite Senate opposition at such a late date.
“This bill is going nowhere. It is a total waste of time,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a floor speech.
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.
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.”
The GOP’s Friday turnaround came about after party leaders scrapped a scheduled Thursday vote, choosing to regroup this morning after pizza-fueled arm-twisting sessions did not earn them 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.”
Before the vote, 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. Scott 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.
“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.
Another House Republican, speaking on the condition of anonymity, was more blunt: “We definitely weakened our position. We’ve lost our leverage,” the lawmaker said. “The irony will be we’ll end up passing a bill that is much more liberal. We could have had a more conservative bill.”
Molly K. Hooper, Mike Lillis, Bob Cusack, Peter Schroeder and Cristina Marcos contributed.