- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Facing a growing revolt in their own ranks, House Republican leaders said Tuesday they are rewriting their debt-limit increase bill after the Congressional Budget Office said Speaker John A. Boehner’s plan does not save as much money as he had claimed.

The vote had been scheduled for Wednesday, but CBO’s numbers sent the Republicans scrambling to make changes, fouling up the schedule and pushing Congress ever closer to the Aug. 2 date when the government bumps up against its borrowing limit.

“We’re here to change Washington — no more smoke and mirrors, no more ‘phantom cuts,’ ” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement to reporters. “We promised that we will cut spending more than we increase the debt limit, with no tax hikes, and we will keep that promise.”

The CBO said Mr. Boehner’s reductions in future spending would save only $850 billion over the next decade, which is less than the $900 billion increase in the debt ceiling he is proposing. That discrepancy meant the bill violated his pledge to have cuts exceed the dollar amount of the debt increase.

The delay could also give the party’s leaders time to twist arms among conservative lawmakers, many of whom said Tuesday they cannot vote for the plan, and which one influential lawmaker said is short of the support needed.

“There are not 218 Republicans in support of this plan,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, who heads the powerful conservative caucus in the House and who said he’s voting against the measure.

Democratic leaders said Mr. Boehner was unlikely to get much support from them.

“Very few. I don’t want to give a number on it, but I would think very few,” said the House Democrats’ chief nose counter, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

Whenever it occurs, the vote is shaping up as a key test of Mr. Boehner’s leadership. If successful, it would give momentum to a two-step debt increase that also would ensure votes on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

But if unsuccessful, it could give the edge to Senate Democrats’ plan, which immediately would raise the debt limit by $2.7 trillion, reduce future new discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion and create a commission to recommend other budget fixes.

All sides are racing against an Aug. 2 deadline, which is when the Treasury Department says it will bump up against the $14.29 trillion borrowing limit set by law.

Both Mr. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, have plans, though Mr. Reid is holding off on voting in his chamber until after the House does.

Mr. Boehner said earlier Tuesday that his plan is the only option that can bridge party differences and win enough support to pass Congress by the Aug. 2 deadline.

“We have a bill that is a reasonable approach negotiated with the Senate leadership that really is common sense,” he said. “There’s more cuts in spending than you have an increase in the debt limit. It has real caps and a real process for cutting spending before the end of this year. And it provides for — I think — the best effort to get a balanced-budget amendment enacted into the Constitution.”

Mr. Boehner’s bill would have reduced future discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion, granted an immediate debt increase of $1 trillion and set up a committee to work on trillions of dollars in future deficit reduction through either more spending cuts or tax increases, which would then earn another future debt increase. It also would have required both the House and Senate to hold votes on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution later this year.

The rules for debate also will allow House leaders to expedite such an amendment to the floor later this week.

But conservative Republicans in the House said they don’t just want the promise of a vote, they want an assurance a balanced-budget amendment would be passed by both houses and sent to the states.

Mr. Jordan and other conservatives said they would prefer the Senate vote on the “cut, cap and balance” debt increase the House passed last week, which includes deeper spending cuts and requires that both chambers approve a balanced-budget amendment and submit it to states for ratification before any debt increase happens.

“The solution to me is really obvious; that is a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget,” said Rep. W. Todd Akin, Missouri Republican. “I believe my constituents sent me here to solve a problem. I would go past Aug. 2 if I had to, because I feel like if we create some level of stress, which I don’t like, it’s maybe better to take that now before we’ve totally bankrupted this nation.”

Further complicating matters for House Republicans, the CBO released its official score of the savings in the House bill and calculated it will reduce future spending by just $850 billion compared with current levels — meaning the bill violated Mr. Boehner’s pledge to match cuts dollar for dollar.

That finding sent his staff back to rewrite the legislation Tuesday evening.

The CBO said Mr. Boehner’s bill does reduce spending by $1.1 trillion when compared with where spending levels were in January, but that was before Congress and the president agreed to a 2011 spending bill that cut tens of billions of dollars.

The CBO said Mr. Boehner’s office requested that additional calculation because his “staff indicated that this comparison would be useful.”

Republicans said the House plan was based on conversations Mr. Boehner had with Mr. Reid over the weekend, after Mr. Boehner decided to cut Mr. Obama out of the talks.

But Mr. Reid said that even if Mr. Boehner’s bill passes out of the House, it would be “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

“Speaker Boehner’s plan is not a compromise. It was written for the tea party, not the American people,” the Nevada Democrat said, calling his own proposal the “reasonable middle ground” by saying it meets Republican demands for no tax increases.

Republicans, though, said they’re not likely to back Mr. Reid, charging that his plan relies on gimmicks to claim $2.7 trillion in spending reductions.

Meanwhile, the White House on Tuesday signaled Mr. Obama would veto the House bill — issuing the threat just a day after the president used a prime-time address to call for compromise on all sides.

In a two-sentence statement, Mr. Obama’s Office of Management and Budget said the administration “strongly opposes” Mr. Boehner’s plan, dubbed the Budget Control Act of 2011, and said “senior advisers would recommend that he veto this bill” if it were presented to him.

In a Monday night speech to the nation, Mr. Obama blamed the impasse on Republican intransigence and urged both parties to compromise for the good of the country. Mr. Boehner followed the president with his own address, in which he claimed his plan is the only proposal that can pass both chambers and make it to the president’s desk.

Still, Tuesday’s OMB statement was less decisive than its July 18 veto threat against the GOP’s Cut, Cap and Balance Act, which passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

That announcement included a several-paragraph explanation of White House objections to the measure, declaring: “If the president were presented this bill for signature, he would veto it.”

In his Monday speech, Mr. Obama also called for voters to call Congress and demand a compromise, and on Tuesday many responded, overloading the phone lines and shutting down some websites.

Kara Rowland, Paige Winfield Cunningham and Sean Lengell contributed to this article.

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