Boehner Tweaks Debt Bill to Include Balanced Budget Amendment Provision

By John R Parkinson

Jul 29, 2011 2:10pm

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

After House Republicans failed to line up a majority to pass the Boehner debt plan Thursday night, the GOP leadership decided today to once again tweak the bill, and once again Republicans have recaptured confidence that they will pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling and send it to the Senate. 

After struggling to find the votes Thursday evening, House Republicans huddled privately behind closed doors early this morning to find a path forward. 

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio urged his colleagues to pass the measure and put the onus to get a deal done back on the Democratic Senate, according to a senior GOP leadership aide.

“If we pass this today, we will have sent not one, but two bills to the Senate that would end this crisis,” Boehner reportedly told the conference. “All that will stand between the American people and a resolution to this crisis will be the Senate, which has passed nothing.” 

Sources inside the room say that Boehner again pleaded for party unity and said the House would vote today on a debt ceiling bill, one way or another. 

"I am a happy warrior," Boehner told his colleagues, despite an apparent rebellion in his conference. "I love all of you." 

While the Republicans were strategizing, President Obama went to the airwaves and called on the GOP to stop wasting time and compromise with Democrats, saying the stalled GOP House bill “has no chance of becoming law.” 

“The House of Representatives is still trying to pass a bill that a majority of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have already said they won't vote for,” Obama said. “It's a plan that would force us to relive this crisis in just a few short months, holding our economy captive to Washington politics once again. In other words, it does not solve the problem, and it has no chance of becoming law.” 

As the GOP meeting began to wrap and lawmakers began to trickle out, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama was asked about the president’s comments. Brooks, a Tea Party-supported freshman, dismissed the president’s comments and broke the news that the leadership had tweaked the bill to include a Balanced Budget Amendment element, likely boosting the Whip count over the top. 

Boehner’s plan, also known as the Budget Control Act of 2011, was revised only to ensure that a balanced budget amendment is passed by both Houses of Congress before the second tranche of debt limit increase authority is granted to the president. 

All the numbers confirmed by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office stand. The measure would find $917 billion in savings over 10 years, while the debt limit will be increased by $900 billion. The second stage of the plan would still create a select joint committee on deficit reduction before the debt limit is increased again. 

As Boehner left the meeting, he announced "we have a deal" and noted that he was smiling. The speaker is expected to be on the House floor this afternoon to discuss the changes to the bill prior to a vote. 

As members began streaming out of the conference meeting, many announced that the revision to the bill is enough to win their support. Brooks predicted that the change would bring at least 10 new supporters on board with the Boehner plan. 

Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., was previously a ‘no’ and announced he was a solid ‘yea.’ 

“Votes on the debt ceiling should be a thing of the past. This mess is not about the debt ceiling; it’s about Washington’s addiction to spending,” Landry said in a statement shortly after the meeting. “My fellow freshmen and I are committed to finding a long-term solution to our nation’s debt. A Balanced Budget Amendment will prevent an immediate downgrade of our credit rating and ensure that we’re not right back at this point next year.” 

That sentiment was echoed by other rank and file Republicans who have decided to drop their opposition to the plan now that there is a mechanism for long-term reform in the legislation. 

“I’ve said for months that this debt-limit debate is an opportunity to do something big to address our long-term debt. I was undecided on the original version of this bill, because I hoped something better would come along. Today, something better emerged,” Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., said in a statement. “Attaching a balanced budget amendment sends a message to the American people that we’re listening to them, and we’re serious about tackling Washington’s debt problem. A balanced budget amendment is the type of meaningful reform we need to prevent another debt-ceiling crisis like we face today.” 

Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Tea Party freshman from Illinois, said that the breakdown last night “was an indication of how we have been able to change the atmosphere in Washington.” 

“Our leaders weren't trying to buy votes with pork projects and earmarks, and instead focused on making their case on the merits of the bill itself,” Hultgren, R-Ill., wrote in a statement. “I will vote for the revised version of the Budget Control Act and I admit that it is not perfect; however, the unwillingness of some members in this chamber, and of Sen. Reid and his Democrat colleagues, to support more sweeping fiscal reform leaves me no choice.” 

After meeting with his caucus today for nearly two hours, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev., declared, “the only compromise that there is, is mine”

A vote on the revised plan is expected this evening or tonight although sources say the timing is unclear. 

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.

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