- The Washington Times - Friday, July 29, 2011

The Senate late Friday rejected yet another House Republican proposal to stave off a looming debt crisis, acting just hours after the lower chamber had approved the measure and leaving the path to a deal still in doubt with just days to go before the Tuesday deadline.

Senators voted 59-41 vote to table the House bill, and vowed to vote on Democrats’ own proposal early Sunday — though that has little chance of passing the chamber with Republicans and even some Democrats saying it doesn’t strike the right balance.

“There is a filibuster. This is something that shouldn’t be filibustered,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Senate Democrats have now rejected two different House proposals, but have yet to pass their own plan as the government prepares to bump up against its $14.29 trillion borrowing limit next week.

The House bill passed only after Republicans recovered from an embarrassing debacle Thursday, when they discovered in the middle of the debate they lacked the votes for passage, and had to pull their bill from the floor.

After rewriting the bill to make a future debt increase contingent on passing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, Republican leaders won enough support.

“We’ve done our level best. We’ve done everything we can to find a common-sense solution that can pass both Houses,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, just before his bill passed 218-210.

His bill would increase the debt by $900 billion, and couple that with future spending cuts of $917 billion. Mr. Reid’s bill would raise the debt by more than $2 trillion and reduce future spending by an equal amount — though he counts on limiting future war spending to reach that goal, and Republicans said that amounted to a gimmick.

The House vote served as a referendum on Mr. Boehner, who told colleagues “I stuck my neck out a mile” to negotiate an agreement with President Obama.

But it was House Republicans who nearly chopped his neck off, figuratively, when they forced him to postpone Thursday’s vote.

On Friday, though, Mr. Boehner received a standing ovation from his Republican colleagues just before the vote, though Democrats hissed at his claims that he tried to work out a deal with the president.

Twenty-two Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the bill. Those Republicans argued that it didn’t go far enough in cutting spending, and was weaker than the version the House passed just last week.

“I cannot in good conscience vote for a bill that puts the future of my grandchildren and of generations to come in jeopardy,” said Rep. Paul C. Broun, Georgia Republican.

Others were on the fence until the end but swung in favor of the bill.

One of the last to decide was Rep. Morgan Griffith, a Virginia Republican who said he didn’t know how he was going to vote when he walked in the chamber, but ended up supporting it.

“This bill doesn’t go far enough in my opinion, so I had to hold my nose,” Mr. Griffith said.

He had voted against the first House bill last week, arguing it granted too big a debt increase, and said he actually liked the two-step process in the new House bill because it would force the debate on spending to continue.

Mr. Griffith said the bill is now a message to the Senate, where attention shifted late Friday.

In the vote, six Republicans joined all 53 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus in voting to table the House plan. Those Republicans argued it didn’t cut deeply enough, while Democrats said it didn’t last long enough.

They are looking for a debt increase that will go through at least the 2012 election.

President Obama on Friday made his own appeal for a new bipartisan deal to emerge from the Senate.

“There are plenty of modifications we can make to either of these plans in order to get them passed through both the House and the Senate and would allow me to sign them into law. And today I urge Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to find common ground,” the president said.

Mr. Obama has been on the sidelines for most of this week after Mr. Boehner cut him out of talks.

Still, the president said the sides are closer than it would seem. All parties agree that the deal will not include tax increases, and that any debt increase must be matched dollar-for-dollar by new reductions in future spending.

Mr. Obama said he would even welcome a trigger to kick in a future commission to propose more deficit reduction.

But he insisted any debt increase be all at one time, and be big enough to last through the 2012 election, so that Congress doesn’t go through this debate again. Mr. Obama also has opposed requiring a balanced budget amendment, as House Republicans are insisting on.

And Democrats mocked the new balanced budget requirement in the bill, with one of them saying the language was drafted so poorly that it would allow any amendment with the title that includes the words “balanced budget” would apply.

Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado Democrat, said that meant he could take an Equal Rights Amendment and rename it the Balanced Budget Amendment and it would satisfy the requirement.

“I think we will seriously look at re-titling that amendment,” Mr. Polis said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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