The House narrowly approved Speaker John Boehner’s plan for slashing spending and raising the debt ceiling Friday evening – including a requirement that Congress approve a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution . But the more serious work was going on off stage in the Senate.
The Boehner plan, radically retooled the night before to appease rebellious House conservatives and Tea Party adherents who had blocked a previous vote, is so far out of the realm of political reality that Senate Republicans and Democrats began conferring among themselves to determine whether a bipartisan measure could be crafted and enacted before next Tuesday’s deadline to avert a default on U.S. debt and an almost certain market panic.
Boehner’s e measure was approved, 218 to 210, with no Democrats backing the plan. Twenty-two Republicans voted against it, with most of them complaining that the bill wasn’t tough enough. While the President and congressional Democrats said the plan would be dead on arrival in the Senate, Boehner, R-Ohio, insisted that his approach “enjoys bipartisan and widespread support across the country, and blasted the White House and Democrats for failing to come up with a plan of their own.
After suffering days of bad publicity for breaking off budget talks with President Obama, and kow-towing to Tea Party members, Boehner used a floor speech to argue that he and House Republicans have passed several major budget and deficit reduction plans, while Democrats in the Senate have done nothing yet. And while his plan calls for spending cuts but no increases in revenue as a condition for raising the debt ceiling, Boehner insisted he has gone the extra mile to negotiate a compromise on the debt limit issue.
“I have worked since the first week of this session … to avoid being where we are right this moment,” Boehner said. “I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the President of the United States, and I put revenues on the table in order to try to come to an agreement to avert us from being where we are now. But a lot of people in this town can never say yes.”
Republicans and Democrats alike said it was unthinkable that Congress would allow the Treasury to default on its borrowing once it breaches the current $14.3 trillion limit on borrowing next week, and that congressional leaders and Obama would have to hammer out their differences over the weekend. “Default is not an option,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. “It’s absolutely going to work out.”
Yet while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signaled an eagerness to negotiate a bipartisan compromise with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, after the Senate quickly disposes of both the Boehner and Reid plans, whether they can sell it to a House under the sway of the Tea Party and the far right remains to be seen.
“This is not a situation where the two parties are miles apart,” President Obama said today at a White House press briefing. “We’re in rough agreement about how much spending can be cut responsibly as a first step toward reducing our deficit. We agree on a process where the next step is a debate in the coming months on tax reform and entitlement reform, and I’m ready and willing to have that debate. And if we need to put in place some kind of enforcement mechanism to hold us all accountable for making these reforms, I’ll support that too if it’s done in a smart and balanced way.”
Meanwhile the markets showed signs of impatience with lawmakers in the final days of the debt negotiations over fears they wouldn’t be able to find a compromise. U.S. stocks ended a multi-session losing streak Friday that sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 to their worst weeks in over one year. The Dow ended down 96.87 points or 0.8 percent. The S&P 500 fell 8.39 points or 0.7 percent and the Nasdaq Composite lost 9.87 points or 0.4 percent.