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Lacking Votes, Boehner Pulls Debt Bill From the Floor

July 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

After five hours of twisting arms and trying to persuade conservatives into voting “yes” with offerings of pizza, at 10 p.m. Thursday evening House Speaker John Boehner [R, OH-8] pulled his debt ceiling bill from the House floor. The bill has been sent back to the Rules Committee for tweaks and will most likely be brought to the floor again on Friday for a second vote attempt. In its current form the bill does not have the 216 votes it needs to pass.

Obviously, this is bad new politically for Speaker Boehner, who worked tirelessly for days to rally support for his measure, only to have it fall short in the end. It’s yet another sign that he does not have control of his caucus. But the real story is about policy, not politics. Boehner spent five hours Friday night trying to win over a couple dozen members of his caucus who had pledged to vote against the bill because either they don’t want the debt ceiling raised or because they don’t think it does enough budget cutting. The strategy is clearly to shore up the right wing of the caucus, and the tweaks that are going to be made before vote attempt number two will likely reflect that. There are reports suggesting, for example, that eliminating Pell Grant funding from the bill could solve the impasse. Some conservatives see the grants as a form of welfare.

The problem with that strategy is it pushes the House bill further to the right, making it harder to reconcile with what can pass the other chamber of Congress, which is controlled by Democrats. The basic principle of compromise is that opposing sides move towards the middle until they reach a point that both sides are willing to accept for the sake of the common good. With just four days left until default, we’re seeing the opposite of that process taking place. The Republican House moving further away from the Democratic Senate, making reconciliation more difficult than it was a few hours ago.

Congress is staying in session all weekend, but right now it’s unclear how the debt ceiling increase is going to get done. Senate Democrats could act first with their bill, though they’d almost definitely have to go through a time-consuming cloture process to get there, and they really don’t have that kind of time to spare. Or Obama could invoke the 14th Amendment and raise the debt ceiling without Congress, as House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer [D, MD-5] endorsed Thursday night.

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