(Photo: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)
House Speaker John Boehner rallied Republicans in the House of Representatives to pass the highly negotiated and controversial debt ceiling bill by a vote of 269-161. After week of intense discussions and a failed effort to pass “Cut, Cap and Balance,” the bill found bipartisan support on Monday.
The compromise bill provides for an immediate increase of $400 billion dollars and allows President Obama to request another $500 billion in the next several months.
However, Congress would stop the second installment by a veto proof two-thirds margin. A further increase of $1.2 and $1.5 trillion would be available after a special committee, also known as a “super committee,” of twelve members identifies matching levels of spending cuts. The committee must complete its work by Thanksgiving of 2012 and Congress must hold an up or down vote on the recommendations by December 23 of the same year.
Democrats are concerned because the bill does not contain any tax or revenue increases and Republicans are equally concerned that military spending will be severely curtailed.
Earlier today, Democrats demanded that Republicans “carry the water” on this bill. However, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke on the floor of the House and announced she would vote in favor of the bill. Boehner, in an unusual move, presided over the House for this historic vote. As a sign of protest, most Democrats did not surrender their votes until the final moments.
The process left many on both sides of the aisle scared and wounded. Boehner was forced to hold two closed-door sessions where he and other GOP leaders had to corral many “Tea Party” freshmen and others who were adamant that spending cuts be a central part of any deal. But it may have been the more private meetings that convinced many conservative lawmakers to make a final commitment.
Vice President Joe Biden made the rounds today, speaking to Democrat lawmakers in both chambers. His meeting with several House members went way beyond its allotted time, with several members of the “progressive” caucus voicing strong objections to the final deal.
“In my 36 years in Washington I have never asked anyone to vote against their conscience,” Biden told reporters. “I am simply here to provide information.” No one on either side of the debate expressed enthusiasm over the final version.
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, said the deal is “not perfect,” but indicated the bill’s passage will start to change the political culture in Washington.
“The big win here for us, and for the American people is the fact that there are no tax hikes in this package,” Cantor said. “The last thing we need is tax hikes.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said he had reservations about the budget deal struck by President Obama, saying, “This is a hard compromise,” Cummings told The New York Times. But he added that the “ramifications would be long” if the deal did not go through.
Twitter and other social media outlets were busy before and during the vote.
Columnist Michelle Malkin posted a message on Twitter soon after the vote got underway. “Final passage vote on Bipartisan Crappy Meal now underway in the House.”
Noted personal financial guru and author Dave Ramsey delivered the sentiment of many fiscal conservatives in another message posted on Twitter earlier Monday.
“Only in DC can you cut spending by 1 Trillion over TEN years and raise the debt ceiling almost 1 Trillion THIS year and call that even,” wrote Ramsey.
When Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) arrived on the House floor with about two minutes remaining in the vote, the chamber erupted in applause. Giffords was wounded in a shooting in January and has been recuperating since. Giffords voted “yes” on the bill.
The vote is now headed for the Senate where a noon vote is scheduled for Tuesday. All indications are it will pass with little difficulty.