WASHINGTON – Defying a veto threat, the Republican-controlled House voted Tuesday night to slice federal spending by $6 trillion and require a constitutional balanced budget amendment to be sent to the states in exchange for averting a threatened Aug. 2 government default.
The 234-190 vote marked the power of deeply conservative first-term Republicans, and it stood in contrast to calls at the White House and in the Senate for a late stab at bipartisanship to solve the nation’s looming debt crisis.
President Barack Obama and a startling number of Republican senators lauded a deficit-reduction plan put forward earlier in the day by a bipartisan “Gang of Six” lawmakers that calls for $1 trillion in what sponsors delicately called “additional revenue” and some critics swiftly labeled as higher taxes.
The president said he hoped congressional leaders would “start talking turkey” on a deal to reduce deficits and raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit as soon as today, using that plan as a roadmap.
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Wall Street cheered the news of possible compromise as well. The Dow Jones industrials average soared 202 points, the biggest one-day leap this year.
Treasury officials say that without an increase in U.S. borrowing authority by Aug. 2, the government will not be able to pay all its bills, and default could bring severe consequences for the economy.
Yet a few hours after Obama spoke at the White House, supporters of the newly passed House measure breathed defiance.
“Let me be clear. This is the compromise. This is the best plan out there,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, head of a conservative group inside the House known as the Republican Study Committee.
The legislation, dubbed “Cut, Cap and Balance” by supporters and backed by tea party activists, would make an estimated $111 billion in immediate reductions and ensure that overall spending declined in the future in relation to the overall size of the economy.
It also would require both houses of Congress to approve a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and send it to the states for ratification. The amendment itself would require a supermajority vote in both houses of Congress for any future tax raises.
With time dwindling, the day’s events did little to suggest a harmonious end was imminent in a defining clash between the two political parties.
Senate Democrats have announced they will oppose the House-passed measure, although it could take two or three days to reject it.
Yet there were signs that with Tuesday night’s vote behind them, House Republican leaders might pivot swiftly.
Even before the vote, Speaker John Boehner told reporters that it also was “responsible to look at what Plan B would look like.”
And House Majority Leader Eric Cantor issued a statement saying of the Gang of Six proposal: “This bipartisan plan does seem to include some constructive ideas to deal with our debt.
Debate in the House was along predictable lines, and only nine Republicans opposed the bill and five Democrats supported it on final passage. Washington state’s delegation voted strictly along party lines.