Ill-fated GOP debt plan passes in House vote

Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., left, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, center, and other House Republicans, smile after the 234-190 passage of the conservative deficit reduction plan known as "Cut, Cap and Balance" in the GOP-controlled House, on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 19, 2011.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON - The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation to cut federal spending by $6 trillion and require congressional approval of a constitutional balanced budget amendment in exchange for raising the federal debt ceiling and averting a threatened government default.

As's Lucy Madison reports, however, it was largely a symbolic vote in the House, as the bill would require approval from two-thirds of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the Democrat-dominated Senate, achieving that support is likely impossible.

President Obama has also vowed to veto it should it ever reach his desk. special report: America's debt battle

The 234-190 vote Tuesday night, largely along party lines, marked the power of deeply conservative first-term Republicans, and stood in contrast to stirrings at the White House and in the Senate on a renewed effort at bipartisanship to solve the looming debt crisis.

Obama clearly overshadowed the House vote when he said in the White House press room earlier Tuesday that a unexpectedly rejuvenated bipartisan Senate plan — that cuts spending and raises taxes — is "broadly consistent" with his ideas for slashing the budget deficit. He held out hope it would be an opening for Congress to raise the debt ceiling.

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The plan by the Senate's so-called bipartisan Gang of Six is far too complicated and contentious to advance before an Aug. 2 deadline to avoid a default that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other experts warn would rattle markets, drive up interest rates and threaten to take the country back into a recession. But its authors clearly hope that it could serve as a template for a "grand bargain" later in the year that could erase perhaps $4 trillion from the deficit over the coming decade.

Wall Street cheered the news of possible compromise. The Dow Jones industrial average soared 202 points, the biggest one-day leap this year.

Unless Congress agrees to increase the federal borrowing limit beyond the current cap of $14.3 trillion, the administration will be unable to pay all the government's bills. That would leave the Obama administration with the hard choices of whether to make payments to holders of Treasury bonds or send out checks to retirees relying on Social Security, the government-run pension plan.

The outcome of Tuesday's House vote was never in doubt. Debate in the House was along predictable lines, and only nine Republicans opposed the bill and five Democrats supported it on final passage.

"Our bloated and obese federal budget needs a healthy and balanced diet. ...," said Republican Rep. Reid Ribble, one of 87 first-term House Republicans supported by the tea party movement that is determined to reduce the size of government.

Democrats said the measure, with its combination of cuts and spending limits, would inflict damage on millions who rely on the government's social safety net. "The Republicans are trying to repeal the second half of the 20th century," said Democratic Rep. Sander Levin.

Still, the vote might clear the way for enough House Republicans to support bipartisan plans under consideration in the Senate as an alternative means to raise the debt ceiling and avert an unprecedented U.S. default.