Thursday, July 28, 2011

House Debt Vote a High Stakes Tally for Boehner

Updated at 11:45 p.m. edt

Speaker John Boehner failed to whip up enough votes tonight to pass his debt-reduction legislation, forcing the GOP boss to postpone a vote rather than see his measure go down in flames.

It was a blow to the lawmaker's reign over a House divided between mainstream Republicans and the slash and burn Tea Party faction that arguably controls the direction of the GOP at this point.

Boehner will assemble every GOP House member tomorrow morning to try to get the debt ceiling legislation back on track.

Word of a delay first came at 5:30 p.m. Washington time, some 45 minutes ahead of the scheduled House vote. A few hours later any hopes of a vote fell apart when Boehner's arm-twisting tactics behind closed doors failed to woo enough support for his measure.

Boehner was tweaking the measure late this evening, hoping that by slashing millions in Pell Grants that help poor and middle class Americans pay for college they could buy off the Tea Party.

The White House called the GOP "dysfunctional" because they refuse to compromise, labeling the delay in the vote "a pointless partisan exercise" because the bill will die in the Senate.

end update

Speaker John Boehner implored Tea Party Republicans today to back his debt-reduction legislation, ignoring Democrats' promise to put a stake in the heart of the measure if it makes it out of the House.

"After today, the House will have sent to the Senate not one, but two different bills that will rein in spending, increase the debt ceiling and bring an end to this crisis," Boehner said early this afternoon. "When the House takes action today, the United States Senate will have no more excuses for inaction."

The Speaker is applying pressure while he is under pressure. Throughout the debt wrangling, the Ohio lawmaker has had to negotiate with his own party's members as much, if not more, as he has had to parlay with Democrats. This vote is emerging as one of the biggest tests of Boehner's ability to hold his caucus together and pass legislation.

"Listen, for the sake of jobs, for the sake of our country, I'm asking the representatives in the House in a bipartisan way and asking my colleagues in the Senate, let's pass this bill and end this crisis," Boehner pleaded.

Boehner's debt legislation needs 216 votes to pass in the House.

Going down to the wire, the Speaker got a boost overnight from the Congressional Budget Office, which determined the Speaker's retooled legislation would reduce spending by $917 billion over 10 years, crossing the $900 billion needed to lift debt ceiling. CBO a day earlier said Boehner's plan would not cover the governments debt payments (CBO also said Senate Democratic plan fell short).

Wall Street, late to the fight, but now fully engaged, also stepped up its lobbying for a deal. More than a dozen leading American financiers also wrote to President Obama and the Congress, begging them to settle the debt deal ahead of Tuesday's deadline. They fear a defeault -- the first-ever in U.S. history -- would be a catastrophe for Wall Street and Main Street.

"A default on our nation’s obligations, or a downgrade of America’s credit rating, would be a tremendous blow to business and investor confidence -- raising interest rates for everyone who borrows, undermining the value of the dollar, and roiling stock and bond markets -- and, therefore, dramatically worsening our nation’s already difficult economic circumstances," the bankers wrote.

Boehner knows his bill is doomed no matter what happens with his House vote this evening. The Senate Democrats are going to kill it and Obama promised to veto it. Obama is adamant that the debt resolution not be a short-term incremental fix. The Boehner measure would force another debt showdown over the holidays at the end of this year.

"Republicans cannot get the short-term Band-Aid they will vote on in the House today," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "It will not get one Democratic vote in the Senate. All 53 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus wrote to the Speaker last night to tell him they will not vote for it."

Ultimately, in the hours immediately after tonight's vote lawmakers from the House and Senate will have to decide what they can pass, and they will be forced to make a deal, or potentially send the U.S. economy into an unknown abyss.

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