Vote on Boehner bill is showdown between House Republican purists and realists

July 27, 2011

The run-up to the vote expected Thursday on House Speaker John A. Boehner’s proposal to provide a short-term increase in the national debt limit is quickly turning into a time of clarity for the chamber’s Republicans.

If GOP leaders are unable to muster enough support to get the plan out of the House, the only measure left would be a Democratic proposal by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), and voting with Reid is not a concession many House Republicans are willing to make.

“There’s only three choices,” said Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), a close Boehner ally. “One is to vote for Senator Reid’s plan. One is to default. And one choice is the Boehner bill. It should be pretty self-evident what the best choice is to someone who’s a Republican.”

Increasingly, the vote on Boehner’s proposal is shaping up not as a test of wills between moderates and conservatives, but as a faceoff between political purists who scorn the bill and realists who prefer it to the alternative.

“We came here to reduce the size of government and reduce spending, and this bill, I think, begins to accomplish that goal,” said Rep. Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis.), who decided Wednesday that he will vote for the measure. “It’s by no means perfect. But it’s the best bill we have.”

At a closed-door meeting for House Republicans on Wednesday, where leaders tried to rally support for the measure, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) read from a blog post by conservative commentator Bill Kristol. “To vote against Boehner is to choose to support Barack Obama,” Kristol wrote.

But it is not an easy sale for a party that won back control of the House last year on promises to vote without regard to political consequences.

Boehner’s bill would postpone major entitlement reform and other deep cuts by passing such decisions to a new committee that would report its recommendations by year’s end. The proposal also would not require Congress to pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, but only that it vote on one.

Some Republicans have vowed that they will not raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

Others preferred a conservative bill dubbed “cut, cap and balance” that passed the House this month but was killed in the Senate. It would have required Congress to vote to send the amendment to the states for ratification.

“The credit rating agencies have been clear that no matter what happens with the debt limit, the U.S. will lose its AAA credit rating unless we produce a credible plan to reduce the debt by trillions of dollars,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), chairman of the Republican Study Committee. The group comprises more than 170 House conservatives. “Cut, cap and balance is the only plan on the table that meets this standard,” he said.

House leaders expressed cautious optimism Wednesday that they were convincing members that the plan advanced by Boehner (R-Ohio) is the best that Republicans can hope to get.

It would avert a government default, take a bite out of the deficit and require Congress to adopt $1.8 trillion in additional cuts before the debt ceiling could be raised again next year.

Freshman Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), whose district in Staten Island and Brooklyn is home to many Wall Street professionals, said he decided Wednesday that he will vote for the bill after he was convinced that its failure would hand Democrats control of the debate.

“I don’t think it’s perfect. I don’t think it’s close to perfect. I don’t think it’s in the realm of what I expected to get,” he said.

But, Grimm said, it would require deep spending reductions over the coming years. “That’s historic. And that’s a step in the right direction.”

The public infighting has served to rally some Republicans. Behind closed doors, members erupted Wednesday over an e-mail that a staff member of Jordan’s Republican Study Committee sent to outside conservative groups. It listed undecided members who could be pressured to vote against the Boehner plan.

“I think it’s offensive when a group that you’re a part of uses your bullets to shoot you,” said Rep. Bill Flores (Tex.). “So I have a problem with it.”

Those entreaties did not quiet conservatives who are urging that the plan be abandoned: On Wednesday, the head of the group Tea Party Nation accused Boehner of surrendering to Washington’s status quo and called for him to be replaced.

The House proposal was panned at a small rally held at the Capitol by the Tea Party Express and the American Grassroots Coalition. The GOP that rode tea party energy and activism is hoping that some of it members can look past that relationship.

“Some people are new here and this is part of the learning curve,” LaTourette said. “At times you have to say ‘no’ to people you represent who are yelling at you, if you’ve reached the conclusion that it’s in the best interests of the country.”

Staff writer David A. Fahrenthold contributed to this report.

Read more on PostPolitics.com

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Graphic: Default countdown

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