WASHINGTON — House Republicans passed a deficit reduction plan Friday evening that contains nearly $917 billion spending cuts over ten years and a balanced budget amendment in exchange for a $900 billion debt limit increase. The Senate has promised to defeat the proposal, a process they began Friday night.
Two House Republicans from Minnesota favored the plan, which was written by House Speaker John Boehner. All the state’s Democrats voted against the bill, along with Republicans Michele Bachmann and Chip Cravaack.
Bachmann has long said she will vote against any debt limit increase absent the defunding of last year’s health care reform law. Cravaack’s vote was a mystery up until minutes before he cast it.
Cravaack said he had a couple of requirements before supporting any bill raising the debt limit, among them a large enough plan to ensure the country’s bond rating isn‘t lowered and that the bill achieve longer-term deficit reduction than this legislation did.
“I’ve crunched numbers the past few days trying to find every way I could possibly think of to support this bill,” he said. “But the numbers just weren’t there for me.”
The two Minnesota supporters, John Kline and Erik Paulsen, approached this bill differently. Kline was a supporter of the original legislation, saying as early as Monday that he supported the measure. He offered a pleased assessment of the legislation in a statement Friday.
“This legislation would institutionally reform how the federal government spends taxpayer money while preserving the full faith and credit of the United States,” he said. “While it is far from perfect, the two-step plan includes historic spending cuts and statutory spending controls, ensures a vote on a balanced budget amendment, provides framework for entitlement reform, and includes no tax increases.”
Erik Paulsen had not tipped his hand on the legislation until Thursday, when he came out in favor of the bill. He said Friday that he was a “reluctant yes” when the vote came.
“The increased spending reductions and the requirement for a balanced budget amendment convinced me to support it,” he said.
Boehner had tried since Wednesday to gather enough Republican votes to pass his plan, which would also establish a legislative commission tasked with finding more than $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction measures before Congress approves another debt limit increase next year.
The bill’s original version contained less deficit reduction than the measure passed Friday and there was no balanced budget amendment attached to it. The bill received significant pushback from fiscal conservatives, whom Boehner tried unsuccessfully to court late into Thursday night. Cravaack told KTLK-FM that Boehner was two votes short Thursday.
Republicans rewrote the bill to include more savings and the balanced budget amendment provision, a favorite of conservatives. In the end, the package still wasn’t enough for 22 Republicans who, for various reasons, voted against the legislation. It passed with no Democratic support, and with 218 votes, the minimum needed for final passage.
Democrats push back
The bill has been vigorously opposed by Democrats, who repeated their calls for a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction, including tax increases.
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison went to the House floor before the vote Friday to blast the bill and its Republican supporters.
“This has never happened in the history of the United States … that a caucus in this body has tried to hold hostage the American economy in exchange for raising the debt ceiling,” he said. “We will distinguish ourselves as a body that has failed and has deliberately harmed the American economy.”
In a statement, Betty McCollum called it a “stunt” and “political theater” bound to die in the Senate.
Democrats control that chamber and have said they don’t have the votes to approve the plan. Leadership has offered legislation that would raise the debt limit by $2.7 trillion while cutting spending by $2.2 trillion and establish a commission to find further savings. They’ll use the procedural rules of the Senate to kill the Boehner plan and vote on their bill this weekend.
But that plan is as unlikely to pass the House as Boehner’s plan is to pass the Senate. So both chambers will be in session this weekend trying to find a debt limit solution before their Aug. 2 deadline.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.