THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
BY JACK TORRY
House Speaker John Boehner persuaded weary fellow Republicans yesterday evening to approve a bill that would allow the federal government to avoid a default next week in return for deep cuts in federal spending and congressional approval of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
Although the measure was quickly killed by Senate Democrats, it might jar open the door slightly for Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to forge a compromise that would cut federal spending and raise the government’s $14.29 trillion debt ceiling.
The Obama administration has warned that without an increase in the ceiling by Tuesday, the government could default on some of its obligations. Most economists warn that a default could cripple the tenuous economic recovery.
The House passed the bill, 218-210, before the Senate voted 59-41 to discard it about two hours later.
In the House, Ohio Republicans Pat Tiberi of Genoa Township, Steve Austria of Beavercreek, Bob Gibbs of Lakeville, Bill Johnson of Marietta and Steve Stivers of Columbus voted in favor of the bill. No House Democrat supported it.
In the Senate, all 51 Democrats — including Sherrod Brown of Ohio — two independents and six Republicans joined to scuttle the House bill. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voted to allow consideration of the House measure.
The House, eager to return the Senate’s favor in rejecting the Boehner bill, plans to vote today to reject Reid’s proposal.
Yesterday, Rep. Jim Jordan of Urbana was among 22 GOP conservatives in the House who voted against Boehner’s bill, a move that widens the deep division between him and the speaker. Jordan has been an outspoken critic of Boehner’s approach, arguing that it did not cut spending enough.
In a statement, Jordan said he appreciated Boehner’s “tireless work to achieve real spending cuts without tax increases.” But he warned that “Reid plans to strip out the balanced-budget amendment requirement” or let the bill die.
“We have changed the nature of the discussion in Washington from increased taxes to cutting government spending,” Tiberi said. “For some, it’s not enough.”
“But we still have a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate that have a very different view,” Tiberi said. “But when you step back and look at the big picture, more and more national conservatives are complimenting (Boehner) for taking the ball this far down the field.”
Boehner, from West Chester, essentially staked his future as speaker on getting a bill through the House. After failing to round up enough votes Thursday, he modified the measure yesterday to include the balanced-budget amendment.
Boehner’s move won the backing of a handful of the nearly two dozen recalcitrant tea party Republicans who refused to back his original version. But because an amendment to the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of approval in both the House and Senate, a balanced-budget amendment has almost no chance of passage this year.
However, some analysts believe that once the Senate kills both Boehner’s plan and an alternative offered by Reid, the two sides will have no choice but to agree on a deal that would cut spending and raise the debt ceiling.
Even as he assailed the Boehner plan as having “no chance of becoming law,” President Barack Obama urged both parties to forge a compromise, saying that “for all the intrigue and all the drama that’s taking place on Capitol Hill right now, I’m confident that common sense and cooler heads will prevail.”
In a floor speech before the House vote, Boehner said he had worked with Obama “since the beginning of this year to avoid being in this spot. ... Not one time, not one time did the administration put any plan on the table.”
“I stuck my neck out a mile to try and get an agreement with the president of the United States,” Boehner said. “Hey, I put revenues on the table in order to try to come to an agreement to avert us from being where are now. But a lot of people in this town can never say yes.”
The bills backed by Boehner and Reid have a number of similarities. Boehner’s would have eventually increased the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion in return for cutting federal spending by $2.7 trillion during the next decade. By contrast, Reid would hike the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion in return for $2.4 trillion in spending reductions.
Neither bill would increase taxes, and both call for a bipartisan commission of members of Congress to identify spending cuts.
There are significant differences, however. Boehner had outlined a two-step approach. The first was last night’s bill, which would have raised the debt ceiling by $900 billion in return for $917 billion in spending cuts. Then in a few months, Congress was to agree to a $1.6 trillion increase in the debt ceiling in return for $1.8 trillion in spending cuts and approving the balanced-budget amendment.
A Senate test vote on Reid’s bill is expected early Sunday.
Dispatch Washington bureau reporter Jessica Wehrman and the Associated Press contributed to this story.