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Boehner pandering to tea party to pass bill, Democrats say

July 29, 2011|By James Oliphant and Kathleen Hennessey
(Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg )

Even as it appeared that John Boehner’s debt-ceiling bill was gaining steam and likely will finally pass the House later Friday, Senate Democrats accused the speaker of catering to the most radical, “tea party” elements of his caucus and worsening the prospects for an ultimate deal to ward off a federal default.

Boehner and House leaders were revising their bill to attract more conservative support, incorporating a provision that would insist on passage of a balanced-budget amendment in both houses of Congress as part of a debt-limit hike.

The move seemed to be paying off. Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, elected in November with tea party support and who had been a no, was pleased by the addition of the balanced budget language. "I made my case several times over the past week. They heard," she said.

But Boehner's gambit at the same time increased the likelihood that the Democratic-controlled Senate would reject the bill outright, with some senators viewing the provision as a “poison pill” to prevent a debt-ceiling deal.

The reason? Any bill that seeks to amend the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. The Boehner bill would raise the debt ceiling in two stages and make the second stage, around six months from now, contingent on passage of the amendment -- basically requiring a supermajority to approve the increase.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the assistant majority leader, called tying a balanced-budget amendment vote to the debt ceiling “outrageous.” And Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, said it was “an absurd proposition.”

“Speaker Boehner should just give it up,” Schumer said. “He throws piece after piece after piece of red meat to the right wing lion that seems to dominate his caucus. It’s time he tame that lion for the good of the country.”

Senate Democratic leaders are turning their attention to a proposal crafted by Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, that is similar to Boehner’s bill in many respects, but would allow the debt ceiling to be raised without a second-stage showdown. They urged Senate Republicans to join them in negotiations to come up with a compromise that can clear the Senate and go to the House before the country’s borrowing authority expires Tuesday.

Reid said he will file to cut off debate on his bill Friday evening, which would set the stage for a procedural vote on the legislation Sunday. Reid, however, still must convince enough Republican senators to support his plan to ward off a filibuster.

Lisa Mascaro of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report

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