Speaker John A. Boehner speaks on the House floor before a vote on his debt-ceiling… (C-SPAN )
After a belabored and bruising struggle to appease conservatives, the House of Representatives has passed Speaker John A. Boehner's bill to raise the debt limit and reduce the deficit.
The bill passed on a 218-210 vote, winning no Democratic support while losing 22 Republicans. It now moves to the Senate, where Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid has said it will go nowhere.
With just four days left before the government can no longer pay all of its bills, Reid is working on a separate proposal aimed at winning support for Republican moderates in that chamber.
The House bill was a heavy lift for the chamber's GOP majority, exposing deep divisions between traditional Republicans and hard-line conservatives aligned with the "tea party." Boehner twice delayed the vote this week and revised the bill to win support from his reluctant right flank.
The latest round of changes was made on Friday, after House leaders spent hours in tense and unsuccessful backroom bargaining sessions with members on Thursday night. They ultimately agreed to amend the bill to insist on passage of a balanced-budget amendment in both houses of Congress as part of a debt-limit hike. That move won over roughly a dozen members.
"I've always said that I came to this town not looking for a deal, but looking for a solution," said Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.), a holdout until the change was announced at a morning meeting of Republicans.
Still, the vote proved to be a nailbiter. Republican whips scrambled on the floor, clenching their list of names and searching for members.
Some of the last to vote were the holdout members of the South Carolina delegation. They voted no with seconds to spare, along with Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), a close Boehner ally who, thanks to redistricting, is facing a tough reelection.
Anticipating passage, House Republicans took credit for passing a bill raising the debt limit – something the Senate has not done. In rousing remarks before the vote, Boehner tried to put pressure on the Senate and the White House to put forward a plan.
"Put something on the table. Tell us where you are!" Boehner said as Republicans in the chamber cheered. "I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the president of the United States. ... I put revenues on the table in order to try to come to an agreement to avoid us being where we are."
To the American people, he said: "We've tried our level best."
House Democrats were united in opposition to the bill, saying it was not a serious attempt to avoid an economic crisis.
"Never in our history has there been an intentional disaster perpetrated by the very people who were elected to be the caretakers of this country. That is exactly what will happen if we refuse to take action to prevent default and pay our nation’s bills now," said Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.), the newly-elected congresswoman from a heavily-Republican district who was chosen by party leadership to deliver the closing argument.
President Obama has said he would veto the bill. "Will the House leadership finally be ready to compromise now?" said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer in a Twitter post.
Boehner's struggle to win over his GOP colleagues came at a cost. The struggle appeared to weaken the speaker just as the weeks-long debt limit standoff is coming to a head before the Aug. 2 deadline. Many lawmakers acknowledged that the most recent revision to the bill only made the proposal less palatable to the Senate and, in the end, undermined the party's attempts to cut federal spending.
"If we'd supported the speaker last night then our negotiating position would be better," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). "I think it would have been much tougher for him to turn that deal down."
The House bill would cut roughly $900 billion in spending over 10 years in return for a debt limit increase that covers borrowing through the end of the year. The bill would create a committee to find another $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction and allow for a further debt increase if the committee's plan is enacted. Under the recent changes, the second increase would be contingent upon a balanced-budget amendment passing Congress.
Democrats say they will oppose any plan that does not raise the debt ceiling through 2012.