House Rejects Debt Limit Increase Without Cuts

May 31, 2011
Originally published on May 31, 2011 7:23 pm

House Republicans engineered Tuesday the defeat of their own proposed $2.4 trillion increase in the debt limit. The vote Tuesday was 97-318, far below the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

Tuesday's vote was the second show vote in as many weeks: Last week, Democrats in the Senate forced Republicans to vote on a House GOP proposal that would make controversial changes to Medicare.

When House GOP leaders scheduled Tuesday's vote simply to raise the debt ceiling by another $2.4 trillion, they knew that the entire House Republican caucus would be trooping to the White House on Wednesday to meet with President Obama.

Before Tuesday's vote, Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said the vote will show that Congress won't raise the debt ceiling without cutting more spending.

"It's an important vote to have to show the president that is not where Congress is, it's not where the American people are," he said.

Nonsense, said Oregon House Democrat Peter DeFazio. "It's purely a political artifice so they can say, 'Look, everybody's against it,' so now this strengthens their hand. In my position, I'm saying until these guys get serious about the debt and the deficit — which means you have to talk both about cutting, and you have to talk about revenues — then this is all just a charade."

"It will not be an adult moment on the floor of the House of Representatives," said Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, speaking of Tuesday's vote. He recalled that House Speaker John Boehner had earlier promised that voting on the debt ceiling would be the first really big adult moment for the new GOP House majority.

"To put something on the floor for the purposes of seeing it fail is a demonstration of the fact that this is simply a political charade," Hoyer said.

He urged Democrats to vote either "no" or "present." But Republicans pointed out that 114 House Democrats signed a letter last month demanding that any bill raising the debt ceiling have no strings attached.

"So I don't quite understand how they can now be protesting us holding a vote on what they asked us to hold a vote on," Hensarling said.

Rutgers University congressional expert Ross Baker says many bills that are introduced "really have nothing more to do than to embarrass the opposition."

He said Tuesday's vote also lets Republicans say they opposed raising the debt limit.

"The eternal quest for political cover factors very, very prominently in this decision by the Republicans," he said. "And it's a more graceful way of saying, 'I voted against it before I voted for it.' "

Baker predicts Republicans will strike a bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling by the Treasury's deadline of Aug. 2.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

As NPR's David Welna reports, the failed vote is precisely what Republicans wanted.

DAVID WELNA: Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling is on the House leadership team. He says today's vote will show that Congress won't raise the debt ceiling without cutting more spending.

JEB HENSARLING: It's an important vote to have to show the president that is not where Congress is. It's not where the American people are.

WELNA: Nonsense, says Oregon House Democrat Peter DeFazio.

PETER D: It's purely a political artifice, so they can say, look, everybody is against it. So, now, you know, this strengthens their hand. In my position, I'm saying, you know, until these guys get serious about the debt and the deficit which means you have to talk both about cutting and you have to talk about revenues then this is all just a charade.

STENY HOYER: It will not be an adult moment on the floor of the House of Representatives.

WELNA: That's Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat, speaking of today's vote. He recalled that House Speaker John Boehner had earlier promised that voting on the debt ceiling would be the first really big adult moment for the new GOP House majority.

HOYER: To put something on the floor for the purposes of seeing it fail is a demonstration of the fact that this is simply a political charade.

WELNA: Again, GOP leader Jeb Hensarling.

HENSARLING: So I don't quite understand how they can now be protesting us holding a vote on what they asked us to hold a vote on.

ROSS BAKER: The large number of the bills that are introduced really have nothing more to do than to embarrass the opposition.

WELNA: That's Rutgers University congressional expert Ross Baker. He says today's vote also let's Republicans say they opposed raising the debt limit.

BAKER: The eternal quest for political cover factors very prominently in this decision by the Republicans. And, you know, it's a more graceful way of saying I voted against it before I voted for it.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.