Senate quickly tables Boehner debt plan

The Senate on Friday evening rejected House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) plan to raise the debt limit, upping the ante in the game of chicken between House and Senate.

The 59-41 vote, on a motion to table the resolution passed by the House less than two hours before, ran mostly along party lines, easily reaching the simple majority required to sink legislation in the upper chamber.

Six Republicans joined Democrats to table the Boehner resolution: Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), and David Vitter (La.).

Boehner's office said the Senate's refusal to take up the House plan puts the blame on Democrats if the U.S. defaults.

“For the second time, the House has passed a reasonable, common-sense plan to raise the debt limit and cut spending and, for the second time, Sen. [Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] has tabled it," spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement. "The responsibility to end this crisis is now entirely in the hands of Sen. Reid and President Obama.”

The onus is now on Senate Democrats to put together a bipartisan bill to increase the debt limit that can win 60 votes in the upper chamber. 

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Senate Democrats' strategy is to send such a compromise vehicle back to the House on Tuesday, which would put intense pressure on House GOP leaders to accept it or risk a national default after Aug. 2.

If Reid can persuade at least seven Republicans to join the Democratic caucus in passing debt-limit legislation, it would give him the upper hand in the standoff with Boehner.

Sen. Scott Brown, a centrist Republican from Massachusetts, has said he would vote for Reid’s plan and is working with the majority leader to strengthen it. 

Reid can argue that the Senate bill has strong bipartisan support and send it to the House at the eleventh hour, leaving House Republicans little time to respond.

But if Senate Republicans hold out and block Reid’s bill or a variation of it, then House Republicans would have the high ground in arguing that Democrats should sign onto their proposal.

Democratic leaders have tried to pre-empt that argument by demonstrating that Boehner’s bill does not have any Democratic support.

They pledged to defeat his plan even before it shifted to the right in order to appeal to disgruntled conservatives. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats sent a letter of opposition to Boehner signed by all 53 members of the conference.

Boehner amended his plan to require Congress to pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution before raising the debt ceiling, a key element of the Cut, Cap and Balance Act the Senate had previously rejected by a 51-46 vote.

Democratic leaders charged the Boehner’s debt plan had become more extreme since Thursday.

“They put even more stuff in the right-leaning bill that is called the Boehner plan,” Reid said. “It’s really hard to comprehend the confusion that they have over there.”

“They basically have given the right wing even more than what they had before,” he said.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Boehner would bring about a national default if they insisted on the bill passed Friday evening after days of wrangling with rank-and-file members.

“His new plan, requiring that each house of Congress to not vote on, but pass a balanced budget amendment before any debt ceiling is raised, will guarantee a default,” he said. “It wouldn’t just make a default likely. It will guarantee a default.”

Senate Democrats have focused on reaching a compromise with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) that could be sent to the House Tuesday.

One option they’ve discussed is setting up a trigger mechanism that would give incentive to a select deficit-reduction committee set up under Reid’s bill to agree to a further round of budget cuts.

Democrats hope that if there is strong incentive for that bicameral committee to recommend substantial cuts and for both chambers to adopt them, Republicans will support Reid’s plan.

Reid is also still considering a “last-choice” proposal offered earlier this month by McConnell that would give Obama authority to raise the debt limit by $2.5 trillion in three tranches.

“I'm happy to talk to him about that,” Reid said of McConnell and his plan. “I thought it was a courageous thing he did to come up with that idea.

“And I have not taken my eyes off that. And I will — certainly that's one of the things I'm looking at, but I want to give the Republicans an opportunity to see how they feel my bill should be changed,” Reid said.

Reid is now expected to begin the process to bring his own proposal to lift the nation's debt ceiling to the floor by filing cloture.