House Republicans Friday finally found a version of Speaker John Boehner’s debt bill they could all agree on, but beyond that, little was clear on how Congress would avert a default on the nation’s debt after Aug. 2.
Following days of internal fighting and vote wrangling, the Ohio Republican once again rewrote his debt bill Thursday night in response to demands from conservatives that he include language requiring a balanced budget amendment to be passed by the House and Senate before a second increase in the debt would be allowed next year.
The addition of the BBA provision finally eliminated a blockade by conservatives that had forced Boehner to postpone Thursday evening’s scheduled vote. That, in turn, paved the way for the House — on a 218 to 210 vote — to send the bill to Senate.
But even adding the BBA language was not enough for many conservatives. For example, 22 Republicans voted against the bill, including Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio). The Tea Party Patriots group also slammed the bill in a press release. No Democrats voted for the bill.
In more practical terms, the bill — and its passage in the House — did nothing to bring Boehner and his Conference closer to a deal with the Senate and White House. In fact, Boehner had to move further to the right than he had originally hoped just to pass the bill Friday. That, in turn, raises key questions about whether he will be able to pull together enough votes in the next few days to back a compromise with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
GOP aides said it now appears likely that if Boehner hopes to avert a debt default, he will end up being forced to accept a deal which both the Senate and the White House can agree to. Doing so will mean losing significant parts of his own Conference and will require Boehner to work with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) to cobble together enough Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass it in the House.
Meanwhile in the Senate, Reid’s plan, which was similar to Boehner’s original proposal, was beginning to pick up some steam, with Republicans such as Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) indicating they might vote for the bill in the hopes of ending the partisan gridlock.
A key procedural vote on the Senate bill is scheduled for 1 a.m. Sunday.
Prior to the vote, Boehner took the floor to cheers from his Conference. He delivered an at-times angry speech that was less of an endorsement of the bill than a defense of his efforts during the debt limit crisis.
“Today we have a chance to end this debt limit crisis. With this bill we are keeping our promise to the American people,” Boehner said at the top of his remarks.
After quickly outlining the measure Boehner acknowledged that “the bill before us is still not perfect,” but he asserted that while the House has passed several measures, the Senate has not.
“If this bill passes, this House has sent [the Senate] not one, but two bills. ... To the American people I would say, we’ve tried our level best,” Boehner argued.
But some people have continued to say “no,” Boehner charged, before saying that he began working with Democrats in January in an to attempt to avert the debt crisis.
“My colleagues, I can tell you I have worked with the president and the administration since the beginning of this year to avoid being in this spot,” Boehner said.
“I stuck my neck out a mile to try and get an agreement with the president of the United States,” Boehner angrily yelled at one point.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.