The Washington Post

Changes to House debt bill convince some skeptics

Updated, Noon

House Republican leaders presented members on Friday with a re-worked plan to raise the country’s debt ceiling, and several previously skeptical members said that they would now support the plan.

Members who left a House Republican conference meeting said that the new proposal would not change the first step of House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) plan to raise the debt limit but would call for Congress to send to the states a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in order for the second stage of the debt-ceiling plan to take effect early next year.

The House is expected to vote on the plan sometime Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said as he left the meeting.

“We will vote today, and it will pass with a significant majority in my judgment,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who had switched from “lean no” to “yes” on the plan at Friday’s meeting.

The reworked plan -- if it were to pass both chambers intact -- would set up a battle early next year over both raising the debt limit and changing the Constitution.

Several members said they had changed their minds and were now backing the new Boehner plan.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) -- who for days had been leaning “no” on the Boehner plan -- said as he left the basement meeting room Friday morning that he was now a “yes.”

In an indication of how much support the new plan had picked up, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), one of the most vocal conservatives in the House and among the sharpest critics of the previous Boehner plan, suggested after Friday’s meeting that he might now be on board.

“It feels like TARP did,” Gohmert had told reporters Thursday morning. “The pressure from our leadership to cave and vote for TARP feels very similar to the pressure right now: ‘Rallying the troops, save America, vote for TARP; rallying America, save America, vote for a trillion dollar cut over 10 years.’”

He continued: “But the good news is, if we do this bill and it passes the House and Senate and the president signs it into law, we’ll be able to cut a trillion dollars off of $15 trillion that will accumulate over ten years, and if we can keep that pace up for 150 years, we will balance the budget and we will have only added $120 trillion to the 14.3 trillion we have now.”

Twenty-four hours later, he was among the members who had warmed up to the re-worked Boehner plan.

“I need to read the language, but ... I like what I’m hearing,” Gohmert said after Friday’s meeting.

“I’ve always said I came to this town not looking for a view, but for a solution,” said Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.), who had been opposed to the Boehner plan from earlier this week. “And you know what, the speaker and the leadership, I think at the end of the day, I think that’s what’s in their hearts.”

“We went in there and we kept discussing it, and we got to where we realized both the American people and hopefully that conference is,” Landry said. “I really do. It’s a lot of prayer.”

Senate Democrats, however, have maintained their unanimous oppositon to a two-step plan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced Friday morning that he would take action on the Senate’s version of a debt-ceiling compromise.

“No matter how long Republicans delay, the deadline will not move. We have hours – I repeat, hours – to act,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “That is why, by the end of the day today, I must take action on the Senate’s compromise legislation.”

“This is likely our last chance to save this nation from default,” Reid added.

Reid’s remarks came as the White House announced that President Obama would make a statement on the status of debt negotiations at 10:20 a.m.

There were no obvious signs of compromise in the Senate as the day began.

Reid said that he had invited Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to sit down and “negotiate in good faith knowing the clock is running down.”

“I hope will accept my offer,” Reid said.

“I know the Senate compromise bill Democrats have offered is not perfect in Republican eyes. Nor is it perfect for Democrats,” he added. “But together, we must make it work for all of us. It is the only option. The settlement on the table will never give either party everything it wants. But it already meets the Republicans’ demands.”

McConnell took the Senate floor to urge Democrats to back the Boehner's measure, though it was not at all clear that the House bill will make it to the Senate for consideration.

“You’ve got the speaker of the House doing his job,” McConnell said. “Speaker Boehner has been doing the hard work of governing, working day and night to put together a bill that can actually pass the House of Representatives and end this crisis now.”

Senate Democrats, McConnell said, have been working only to sign up the votes to kill Boehner’s plan should it pass the House.

“It's about time our Democratic friends join us,” he said.

Reid then took the floor to beg GOP colleagues to work with him to revise his proposal so that it would have their support in key votes this weekend.

“Help me work through this,” he said. “I have no pride of authorship. If somebody can figure out another way to imrpove that suggestion..., I will work with them.”

But Reid said he could not accept a measure that would require raising the debt ceiling again in six months.

Reid’s full remarks as prepared are below:

“Although the House of Representatives has not yet voted on Speaker Boehner’s plan, it is clear that plan flawed.

That is why they have struggled for days to pass this flawed legislation without a single Democrat. They have plowed forward, looking only to Republicans.

But as with the battle to pass a Continuing Resolution and keep our government open for business a few months ago, the Republican leadership was unable to the votes with only Republicans. Speaker Boehner had to look to Democrats.

That’s how it’s supposed to work – Democrats and Republicans working together.

A Band-Aid approach to a world crisis is an embarrassment to Congress, to this country and to the world.

United Senate Democrats – all 53 of us – have informed the Speaker that his legislation was doomed in the Senate, because we would not vote for a short-term extension of the debt ceiling. It would put our great nation on the path to another default extravaganza in a few weeks.

Virtually every expert – every economist, every rating agency, every market analyst – has said the kind of short-term plan the Speaker proposed was no answer to the crisis Republicans have created. If we are trying to avert the kind of financial calamity default would bring, Republicans’ plan is not was not a solution.

As the experts say, all too soon we would be back in the midst of partisan wrangling and with our economy once again held prisoner by extremist Tea Party Republicans.

Our economy cannot bear this kind of uncertainty any longer.

Congress and the White House are on lockdown, and the business of the country is not being conducted.

I say no, not again will we fight another battled like the one in which we are now engaged.

But default is not an option, either. And we cannot wait for the House any longer.

It is time for Republicans to stop the political games and embrace compromise.

No matter how long Republicans delay, the deadline will not move. We have hours – I repeat, hours – to act.

That is why, by the end of the day today, I must take action on the Senate’s compromise legislation.

The legislation in point would cut $2.5 trillion from the deficit over the next decade and avert a default on our national debt. It would protect Social Security and Medicare without raising a penny of revenue.

The question us – will today’s Republicans break away from the shrill voice of the Tea Party and return to the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan.

This is likely our last chance to save this nation from default.

I have invited Sen. McConnell to sit down with me, and to negotiate in good faith knowing the clock is running down. I hope will accept my offer.

I know the Senate compromise bill Democrats have offered is not perfect in Republican’ eyes. Nor is it perfect for Democrats.

But together, we must make it work for all of us. It is the only option.

The settlement on the table will never give either party everything it wants. But it already meets the Republicans’ demands.

John McCain, the Republican senior senator from Arizona and President Obama’s opponent in the last presidential election, has asked his party to compromise.

It “is not fair to the American people, to hold out and say we won’t agree to raising the debt limit,” he said. He called the radical Republican approach “unfair” and “bizarro.”

“It’s time we listened to the markets,” he said. “It’s time we listened to the American people and sit down and seriously negotiate.”

And former Senator Fred Thompson, a Republican, asked members of his own party to come to their senses.

“I respectfully suggest that you rake in your chips [and] stuff them in your pockets,” Thompson urged Republicans.

I hope my friend, Sen. McConnell, will come to me by the end of the day and indicate what constructive ideas he has to move the process along.

My door is open. I will listen to any idea to get this done in a way that prevents a default and a dangerous downgrade to America’s credit rating.

Time is short, and too much is at stake, to waste even one more minute.

The last train is leaving the station. This is our last chance to avert default.

The vote on this compromise will determine whether we enter the frightening world of default.

A vote for the Senate compromise will be a vote to honor the financial obligations of this great nation – to pay the bills.

A vote against this compromise will be a vote to default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

There will be no time left to vote on another bill or consider another option here in the Senate. None.

This is our last, best chance to preserve the character and credit of this great nation.”

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