The House passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling Friday. Three hours later, the Senate voted down the House bill. With the Senate set to vote on its own bill at 1 a.m. Sunday, Democrats are scrambling to get the 60 votes needed to pass the bill.
The Senate has 53 members who caucus with the Democrats. Since 60 votes are needed to overcome a Senate filibuster, at least seven Republican votes would be needed, therefore, to pass a bill. Democrats may need more than that, however. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has indicated that he may vote “no” on the bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has indicated that he will likely vote for the Reid bill, and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) has said that she could support the Reid bill after “some issues” are worked out in the bill. If Reid modifies the bill enough to get Manchin and Snowe's support, he would still need five more Republicans to support it. Modifying the bill enough to get five more Republicans, and not lose any Democratic votes in the process, will be Reid's biggest challenge Saturday.
The House debt ceiling bill, put forth by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) was postponed on Thursday because Boehner did not have enough Republican votes to pass it. After spending most of Friday trying to round up more votes, Boehner added a balanced budget amendment requirement to the bill. If the bill were to become law, both houses would have to propose a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in order for the debt ceiling to be raised.
With the balanced budget amendment requirement added to the bill, Boehner barely got the support he needed with 218 Republicans voting in favor and 22 Republicans voting against to pass the bill. (Normally, 218 votes would be needed. Since there are currently two vacancies and two Democrats were unable to be there for medical reasons, 216 votes were needed for passage.)
Boehner, who is known for his inability to hide his emotions well, gave a passionate speech on the House floor Friday that drew strong reactions from both sides of the aisle.
“I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the President of the United States.”
His speech then slowed and his tone became indignant as he drew boos from Democrats and repeated, “I stuck my neck out a mile ... and I put revenues on the table in order to try to come to an agreement to avert us being where we are. But a lot of people in this town can never say 'yes.' A lot of people can never say 'yes;' this house has acted, and it is time for the administration and time for our colleagues across the aisle ....” His voice then rose to an angry pitch and drew cheers from Republicans as he repeatedly pointed at the dais with his finger and said, “put something on the table, tell us where you are!”
Boehner's speech displayed both triumphalism and defeat, exhaustion and pluck, and for good reason. While passage of the bill was ostensibly a victory, Boehner gave up a lot to achieve it. Plus, with 22 Republicans voting against it, his bargaining position with the Senate is now diminished.
Those 22 Republicans were, Justin Amash (Mich.), Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Chip Cravaack (Minn.), Scott DesJarlais (Tenn.), Jeff Duncan (S.C.), Trey Gowdy (S.C.), Tom Graves (Ga.), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Timothy Johnson (Ill.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Steve King (Iowa), Tom Latham (Iowa), Connie Mack (Fla.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.), Ron Paul (Texas), Tim Scott (S.C.), Steve Southerland (Fla.), Joe Walsh (Ill.), and Joe Wilson (S.C.).
Some Republicans and conservatives were quick to criticize the 22 Republicans who voted against the Boehner bill. Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker accused them of “fragging,” as in wounding their own leader in a Friday editorial for The Washington Post.
“If the nation defaults on its financial obligations, the blame belongs to the Tea Party Republicans who fragged their own leader, John Boehner. They had victory in their hands and couldn’t bring themselves to support his debt-ceiling plan, which, if not perfect, was more than anyone could have imagined just a few months ago,” Parker wrote.
Parker also said that some members who signed the “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge are now regretting that decision: “What is it with Republicans and their silly pledges? Didn’t they get enough Scouting? This pledge now has them hog-tied to a promise they can’t keep-the balanced-budget amendment. As many as a third desperately want a pardon from that commitment, according to sources close to the action.”
In a column for Fox News, conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer urged Tea Party supporters to back Boehner and set their sights on the 2012 election: “I have every sympathy with the conservative counterrevolutionaries. Their containment of the Obama experiment has been remarkable. But reversal-rollback, in Cold War parlance-is simply not achievable until conservatives receive a mandate to govern from the White House.”
Tea Party leaders, on the other hand, threatened to punish their supporters who voted for the Boehner bill. In a Friday press release, leaders said they would target the four members of the Tea Party Caucus who voted for the bill – James Lankford (Okla.), Allen West (Fla.), Mike Kelly (Pa.) and Bill Flores (Texas) –for defeat in the 2012 elections, according to The Hill. Without the votes of those members, the bill would not have passed.
Tea Party groups showed some division, however, on this decision. The initial press release contained the names of four Tea Party groups-Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Express, Tea Party Founding Fathers, and United West. The Hill was contacted by Tea Party Nation and Tea Party Express (two of the largest Tea Party groups) after the press release was reported on and told that their names were used without permission, and they do not support the statement.
If the Senate manages to get enough bipartisan support for passage in Saturday night's vote, the ball will then be back in the House's court. In a symbolic vote to show disapproval for the Senate's bill, the House wrote a similar bill and voted 246-173, with 11 Democrats joining every Republican, to reject it Saturday afternoon.