House Rejects Clean Vote to Raise Debt Ceiling

By John R Parkinson

May 31, 2011 10:27pm

ABC News’ John R. Parkinson (@JRPabcDC) reports:

The House of Representatives rejected an increase to the statutory debt limit in a move chastised by Democrats as “a political charade,” “political cover” and “political theatre.”

The measure, which failed by a vote of 97-318 with seven members voting present, stated that “the Congress finds that the President’s budget proposal, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2012, necessitates an increase in the statutory debt limit of $2,406,000,000,000,” and would have raised the debt limit to $16.7 trillion.

All 236 Republicans voted against the increase – joined by 82 Democrats. 97 Democrats voted yes for a debt limit increase, while 7 Democrats voted present. 

The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass.

House Speaker John Boehner reacted to the vote, stating that “raising the debt limit without major spending cuts and meaningful reforms would hurt our economy and destroy more jobs, adding to our debt crisis.”

“Tonight’s vote shows the House is listening to the American people. The Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats have repeatedly asked for a debt limit hike without any spending cuts and budget reforms, and the American people simply will not tolerate it,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “Today the House stood with the American people and said very clearly that this course of action is unacceptable. Republicans have passed a budget and outlined a pro-growth job creation plan that pays down our debt over time. We need to create a better environment for private-sector job growth by stopping Washington from spending money it doesn’t have, not by raising taxes and adding more debt onto the backs of our kids and grandkids.”

Even before the vote failed, Republicans explained the logic behind the vote by repeatedly highlighting Democratic calls for a clean vote to increase the debt limit, including more than 100 House Democrats who signed onto a letter penned by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) demanding a clean vote.

In the end, of the 114 Democrats who signed the Welch letter, five Democratic signatories voted “present” while 29 voted “no.”

Earlier Tuesday the House’s No. 2 Democrat, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, told reporters that he would encourage his Democratic colleagues to either vote against the increase or vote “present” to avoid gifting Republicans with political ammunition in upcoming campaign advertisements leading into the 2012 election.

“I don’t intend to advise that my members subject themselves to a political 30-second ad and attack. This matter is a tough issue because the American public does not want to see the debt limit raised because they believe that it will simply provide for further borrowing as opposed to paying off the debts that we have already incurred,” Hoyer, D-Maryland, said. “If the Republicans were prepared to work on a bipartisan basis on this issue, which is the only way we really do very tough things that are controversial, then I would be prepared to urge at least half of my members to support the extension of the debt limit – including myself. But my advice to them [today] will be not to play this political charade.”

The debt limit was maxed out May 16, leading the Treasury Department to borrow from federal retirement funds while a deal is worked out between the White House and Congress. That move, however, only buys negotiators until August 2 before those funds dry up.

Republicans scheduled the vote even though Boehner has long maintained that any increase to the debt limit must be accompanied by an equal or greater value in spending cuts.

Democrats said they would not fall into a GOP trap, with Hoyer suggesting that Boehner is not living up to his pledge to have an “adult moment” on the issue.

“It will not be an adult moment on the floor of the House of Representatives, which is of course what Mr. Boehner said it would be when we considered the debt limit extension. In fact, as has been widely reported, this is being offered solely for the purposes of being defeated,” Hoyer added. “If we were adults and acting as adults, we would come together and give certainty to the markets that of course America’s going to pay its bills.”

While negotiations between Congressional leaders and the White House over deficit reduction continue, the vote is sure to create tension as the president prepares to meet with the House Democratic Caucus and the House Republican Conference on Wednesday and Thursday.

Political observers say the move is seen as enabling many Republicans to fulfill campaign pledges to vote against raising the debt limit, even though Boehner may ask his GOP colleagues to ultimately support a deal to raise the debt ceiling later this summer.

But even as recent as last week, Boehner reiterated the GOP’s committed position that any increase to the debt ceiling must be accompanied by a greater total of cuts.

“I hope [the Biden Deficit talks] continue, but I think I made our position very clear in my speech in New York when I said that the spending cuts should exceed the amount of an increase in the debt limit,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters last Thursday. “And when I said exceed, I meant exceed.”

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