Speaker Boehner Faces His Biggest Test
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is questioned by reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday. Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call.
When the House of Representatives votes on Speaker John Boehner’s plan to cut the deficit by $917 billion over 10 years (according to that new handy Congressional Budget Office score he got Wednesday night) and immediately raise the debt ceiling by $900 billion (which will allow the government to avoid for default for roughly six months), it will, at once, represent the most meaningful vote of his term and an entirely meaningless vote in actually solving the looming debt ceiling deadline.
Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy have been getting their members in line in hopes of getting 217 “yeas” and passing the plan without any expected Democratic votes.
If Rep. Boehner loses this vote Thursday, he’ll be widely viewed as a speaker who has no control over his rank and file. Most Hill observers anticipate the bill will pass, and questions about his ability to wrangle the conservative and Tea Party-backed freshmen will be put to rest, for now. That’s what makes the vote so very meaningful.
However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Speaker Boehner on Wednesday night, signed by all 51 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them, explaining that the bill is dead on arrival in the Senate.
This helps explain why Thursday’s House vote is somewhat meaningless. It’ll garner a huge amount of attention and it’ll be an important step in moving House Republicans off of their preferred “cut, cap and balance” position toward compromise. But it’s the next House vote on this matter that will prove critical to avoiding the risk of default on Aug. 2.
If the House passes the bill, Sen. Reid may very well choose to take it up in the Senate and amend it to be more like his proposed bill, which would cut $2.2 trillion in spending over the next 10 years.
Wednesday night on PBS NewsHour, White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe explained that the House and Senate plans are not all that far apart.
“The Senate proposal and the House proposal have quite a bit of commonality, some major differences that need to get ironed out.
“But it would just be unthinkable that our leaders wouldn’t come together, because we’re not talking about something that’s 10 miles apart here. If we can just agree on a couple of the outstanding issues, we can bring this to a close,” he said.
The major sticking point is the demand by President Obama and Senate Democrats that the debt ceiling increase last through the 2012 election so that another round of brinksmanship doesn’t consume the government six months down the road. House Republicans are once again seeking to make any further debt limit increases tied to guaranteed further deficit reduction.
The way in which Senate Democrats alter Speaker Boehner’s bill to make it passable in their chamber will be key to watch. If they do so in such a way that Boehner cannot pass it through his House, then President Obama will have nothing to sign to avert the risk of default. Again, it’s the next House vote that will be critical, and that’s when Speaker Boehner will have to choose between a deal and the base of his conference.
THE MAC ATTACK
As the debt debate rages on, tensions have flared, and not just between Democrats and Republicans.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took to the Senate floor Wednesday to challenge members of his own party who refuse to back away from their insistence that a balanced budget amendment be part of any deal to raise the country’s borrowing limit.
Noting that Democrats hold a majority in the Senate, Sen. McCain argued, “Some members are believing that we can pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in this body with its present representation and that is foolish. That is worse than foolish. That is deceiving.”
Sen. McCain also blasted the rationale of some who would oppose Speaker Boehner’s plan in hopes of ultimately passing a balanced budget amendment.
“The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue and the public will turn en masse against Barack Obama,” Sen. McCain said, quoting from Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal editorial page. “Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced budget amendment and reform entitlements and the Tea Party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth.”
“This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into GOP Senate nominees,” McCain added, still quoting the Journal editorial, in reference to the two failed Tea Party-backed candidates from last fall’s midterms.
Angle, who ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat in Nevada, fired back Thursday in a statement, blasting Sen. McCain for “name-calling” and charging that it was “unfortunate” he was “reduced to borrowing words from an editorial — rather than bringing anything constructive to this debate.”
Angle also accused Sen. McCain for aligning himself with the Tea Party to secure another term.
“Ironically, this man campaigned for TEA Party support in his last re-election, but now throws Christine O’Donnell and I into the harbor with Sarah Palin. As in the fable, it is the hobbits who are the heroes and save the land. This Lord of the TARP actually ought to read to the end of the story and join forces with the TEA Party, not criticize it,” Angle said.
BACHMANN MEETS THE PRESS
While stuck in Washington, D.C., doing her day job, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., plans to make good use of her time.
At 1 p.m. ET Thursday, the presidential contender who is leading in some Iowa polls and running second or third to Mitt Romney in national polls, plans to address the National Press Club and take questions from members following her remarks.
The St. Cloud Times previews the appearance with a little scene setting courtesy of the always quotable Norm Ornstein and Larry Sabato.
“Rep. Michele Bachmann has one of those rare opportunities in a presidential campaign to give a solo performance on a national stage, courtesy of the National Press Club….
“Many questions have arisen since Bachmann officially declared her candidacy June 27 in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. Some of them concern the family business, Bachmann & Associates, a counseling firm run by her husband, Marcus. The controversy is focused on his reported methods of counseling gays.
“Bachmann is also likely to face questions about a Washington Post story Tuesday that reported she and her husband took out a $417,000 home loan in 2008 backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Bachmann has been among the more vocal critics of those programs in the wake of the mortgage industry collapse that fueled the recession.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin are the two GOP heavy-hitters still on the sidelines of the 2012 campaign, but both are taking steps that appear to signal fresh signs of interest in the race.
Gov. Perry, who has hosted meetings this week with Republican officials from Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia, will welcome a group of conservative New Hampshire activists to Austin next week, Amelia Chasse of the New Hampshire Journal reports.
Among those expected to meet with Perry are former Republican National Committee member Sean Mahoney and former New Hampshire GOP executive director Paul Young.
Mahoney indicated that the Granite State group will include some individuals who have yet to make up their minds about Perry. “Conservatives are not just looking for a candidate they agree with on the issues, but someone they agree with on the issues who can win — like Governor Perry. Not everyone going is necessarily for Perry, but based on the calls we are making there are a lot of New Hampshire Republicans who at least want to see what the Governor is all about,” Mahoney said.
Palin, meanwhile, has her sights set on the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa.
Scott Conroy of Real Clear Politics reports that Palin will address a Tea Party rally in Waukee over the Labor Day weekend.
The former Alaska governor has been out of the spotlight since her highly-publicized East Coast bus tour ended in early June.
Palin’s visit to the Hawkeye State will come three weeks after the Ames Straw Poll and will certainly spark considerable interest from the media, given that she has said a decision on a run will likely come by August or September.
As Conroy notes, the Iowa appearance will come just two days after the scheduled pay-per-view release of the pro-Palin documentary, “The Undefeated,” which highlights her accomplishments in Alaska.
No one can dispute Palin’s media savvy, so the question is whether her Iowa stop is the start of a presidential campaign or simply a strategic business decision.
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.