House votes for huge deficit-cutting bill

By Steven R. Hurst

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, July 19 2011 9:25 p.m. MDT

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., right, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, spars with Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, left, as they testify before the House Rules Committee on the so-called "cut, cap and balance" plan proposed by tea party-backed House Republicans, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 18, 2011.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday night to cut federal spending by $6 trillion and require congressional approval of a constitutional balanced budget amendment in exchange for raising the federal debt ceiling and averting a threatened government default.

The 234-190 vote marked the power of deeply conservative first-term Republicans, and stood in contrast to stirrings at the White House and in the Senate on a renewed effort at bipartisanship to solve the looming debt crisis.

The House bill faces almost certain defeat in the Democrat-controlled Senate and President Barack Obama has vowed to veto it should it ever reach his desk.

Obama clearly overshadowed the House vote when he said in the White House press room earlier Tuesday that a unexpectedly rejuvenated bipartisan Senate plan — that cuts spending and raises taxes — is "broadly consistent" with his ideas for slashing the budget deficit. He held out hope it would be an opening for Congress to raise the debt ceiling before the Aug. 2 deadline.

The outcome of Tuesday's House vote was never in doubt. Debate in the House was along predictable lines, and only nine Republicans opposed the bill and five Democrats supported it on final passage.

"Our bloated and obese federal budget needs a healthy and balanced diet. ...," said Republican Rep. Reid Ribble, one of 87 first-term House Republicans supported by the tea party movement that is determined to reduce the size of government.

Democrats said the measure, with its combination of cuts and spending limits, would inflict damage on millions who rely on the government's social safety net. "The Republicans are trying to repeal the second half of the 20th century," said Democratic Rep. Sander Levin.

Still, the vote might clear the way for enough House Republicans to support bipartisan plans under consideration in the Senate as an alternative means to raise the debt ceiling and avert an unprecedented U.S. default.

The vote gave Republican lawmakers from conservative districts some political cover to allow the debt limit to increase. It allowed them to show their ideological purity by going on record as supporting sweeping spending cuts and the balanced budget amendment.

Unless Congress agrees to increase the federal borrowing limit beyond the current cap of $14.3 trillion, the administration will be unable to pay all the government's bills after Aug. 2. That would leave the Obama administration with the hard choices of whether to make payments to holders of Treasury bonds or send out checks to retirees relying on Social Security, the government-run pension plan.

There were fears a default would create turmoil in financial markets and hobble global economies that are still struggling to recover from the deep recession that began in 2008.

The alternative Senate plan, a measure the so-called bipartisan Gang of Six senators said they were near agreement on, would seek an immediate $500 billion "down payment" on cutting the deficit as the starting point toward deficit cuts of slightly less than $4 trillion over the coming decade. That action would be finalized in a second piece of legislation.

Wall Street cheered the news of possible compromise. The Dow Jones industrial average soared 202 points, the biggest one-day leap this year.

The Gang of Six — three senators from each party — briefed other senators on the group's plan after a seemingly quixotic quest that took months, drew disdain at times from the leaders of both parties and appeared near failure more than once.

The plan as described Tuesday was almost certain to upset the core constituencies of both parties.

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