In a heavily partisan vote Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act — a palatable-sounding piece of legislation that, if enacted, would slash federal programs deeply, and restrict dramatically the government’s ability to do anything constructive for the country.
It also would graft those requirements into the Constitution, on the threat of a catastrophic debt default. Now leaders of both parties will have to scramble to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The legislation, described in depth here, would make raising the debt limit contingent on both deep immediate spending cuts, and the passage, by supermajorities in Congress, of a Constitutional amendment that would kick federal spending down to historic lows. The so-called Balanced Budget Amendment would force the government to achieve fiscal balance by making deeper and deeper cuts — because raising taxes would, by Constitutional fiat, require two-thirds of the members of both the House and Senate to agree to do so.
The final vote was 234-190 with nine Republicans voting no, and five Democrats voting yes. The Republicans voting with the Dems were Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Paul Broun (R-GA), Francisco Canseco (R-TX), Scott Desjarles (R-TN), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Connie Mack (R-FL), Ron Paul (R-TX), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). The Dems voting with the GOP were Blue Dogs Reps. Dan Boren (D-OK), Jim Cooper (D-TN), Jim Matheson (D-UT), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), and Heath Shuler (R-NC). Two Republicans and seven Democrats did not vote.
The good news is that the legislation will now die a quiet death in the Senate. The better news is that, when the ballet is finally over, the House and Senate will finally figure out how exactly they’ll raise the statutory debt limit.
The bad news is that time is running out. August 2 is the drop dead date before the country defaults on its debt, and still neither of the viable options on the table — the grand bargain, the backup plan, or anything in between — can pass in the House, where the agenda is currently driven by hot-tempered conservatives.
But the idea behind Tuesday’s vote is to placate those conservatives, and give Republicans who know the debt ceiling must be raised cover to vote for a compromise in the days ahead. If it succeeds at that, then maybe the price of posturing will have been worth it.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.