Tea party vexing GOP's debt plan
Boehner delays vote as he tries to get party unity
WASHINGTON — Stung by revelations that his plan would cut spending less than advertised, House Speaker John Boehner pushed off a vote on a debt-ceiling measure that was also running into opposition from tea party conservatives. The move came just a week before an Aug. 2 deadline for staving off the potential financial chaos of the nation's first-ever default.
With time running out, the speaker promised to quickly rewrite his debt-ceiling legislation after budget officials said it would cut spending by less than $1 trillion over the coming decade instead of the promised $1.2 trillion.
Meanwhile, public head-butting between Democratic President Barack Obama and the Republicans showed no sign of easing. The White House declared Obama would veto the Boehner bill, even if it somehow got through the House and the Democratic-controlled Senate.
For all that, it was the tea party-backed members of Boehner's own party who continued to vex him and heavily influence the debt and deficit negotiating terms — not to mention his chances of holding on to the speakership.
Their adamant opposition to any tax increases forced Boehner to back away from a "grand bargain" with Obama that might have made dramatic cuts in government spending. Yet when Boehner turned this week to a more modest cost-cutting plan, with no tax increases, many conservatives balked again. They said the proposal lacked the more potent tools they seek, such as a constitutional mandate for balanced budgets.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of a large group of conservative Republicans, sent a tremor through the Capitol Tuesday when he said he doubted Boehner had enough support to pass his plan. The Boehner bill would provide an immediate debt ceiling increase but would require further action before the 2012 elections.
Obama strongly opposes that last requirement, arguing that it would reopen the delicate and crucial debt discussions to unending political pressure during next year's campaigns.
The president supports a separate bill, pushed by Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Democratic-controlled Senate, that would raise the debt ceiling enough to tide the government over through next year — and the elections.
Boehner wasn't helped by an official congressional analysis late Tuesday that said his plan would produce smaller savings than originally promised. Of particular embarrassment was a Congressional Budget office finding that Boehner's measure would cut the deficit by just $1 billion next year.
Boehner's office said it would rewrite the legislation to make sure the spending cuts exceed the amount the debt limit would be raised. Adding a political touch, it accused the Democrats of declining to put forward specifics subject to the same sort of review.
Earlier, responding to the conservative Republican opposition, Boehner quickly went on Rush Limbaugh's radio show, then he began one-on-one chats with wavering Republicans on the House floor during midday roll call votes.
"He has to convince a few people," Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., observed dryly from a doorway.
A serious, almost dire urgency ran through Boehner's efforts. The clock was ticking down to next Tuesday's deadline to continue the government's borrowing powers and avert possible defaults on U.S. loans.
Congressional veterans say a final-hour bargain can't be reached until both parties irrefutably prove to themselves and the public that neither the Democrats' top goals nor the Republicans' can be reached in the divided Congress.
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