Given a chance to vote for Simpson-Bowles for the first time — after many months of praise from officials in both parties for a proposal that would slash deficits by $4 trillion — the House rejected the measure soundly. Just 38 members voted for it. Supporters included 16 Republicans and 22 Democrats.
It appears that Simpson-Bowles, crafted more than a year ago by a bipartisan presidential commission, has become the idea a whole lot of people in both parties love to love — but virtually no one wants to vote for.
“In a way, it was a hypocrisy litmus test,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), of the Simpson-Bowles foray. “In their hearts, they want to be for this. . . . It’s a courage issue.”
Members rendered judgment on both plans in the midst of a series of budget votes this week ahead of the upcoming spring break recess that begins Friday.
The Ryan plan, which proposes cutting tax rates and a dramatic revamping of Medicare to curb costs for future retirees, faces all but certain rejection in the Senate but will frame the parties’ election-year debate on fiscal issues. The plan cuts $5.3 trillion over the next decade — entirely through deep cuts in entitlements and agency spending.
The House vote breakdown was 228 Republicans in favor, and 181 Democrats and 10 Republicans opposed.
After the vote, Republicans ground out press releases praising the vote for proposing “real solutions” to improve the economy. Democrats responded with a round of statements decrying the GOP effort to revamp Medicare.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that the Ryan plan would create “a segmented replacement for Medicare that would burden seniors and end the program as we know it.” House Speaker John A. Boehner said it would set “a course that’s sustainable not just for our generation, but for our kids and our grandkids.”
In many ways, the bitter debate and lopsided vote were a repeat of a House debate over a Ryan plan introduced a year ago.
For those holding out hope that Congress will find its way to the bipartisan grand bargain to reduce the deficit that eluded Boehner and Obama in summertime talks to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, it was Wednesday night’s vote on the Simpson-Bowles model that said more about Washington’s deep divide.
Dozens of House members who signed a letter in the fall urging Congress’s special deficit reduction super committee to “go big” and craft an ambitious plan to cut debt along the lines of Simpson-Bowles nevertheless voted against the budget Wednesday.
Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette (Ohio), who sponsored the Simpson-Bowles budget amendment along with Cooper, said they had dozens of promises from colleagues to back it. And then, “the fax machines and the e-mails lit up around here around 6 p.m. And they never stopped.”