House Takes Up 'Cut, Cap and Balance' Bill

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The House of Representatives takes up the "Cut, Cap and Balance" bill Tuesday. The Tea Party Caucus strongly favors the effort to cap federal spending at 18 percent of the GDP — a rate not seen since 1966 — and the plan to pass a balanced-budget amendment. But the bill stands almost no chance in the Senate and faces a veto threat from the White House.

NORRIS: When President Obama announced this potential deal today, he acknowledged that...

OBAMA: It will be hard. It will be tough. There's still going to be a lot of difficult negotiations that have to take place in order for us to actually get something done.

NORRIS: And if Senator Warner just signaled, negotiations with the House of Representatives will be particularly tough. As evidence of where the House leadership stands, today, it brought to the floor a bill that was entirely crafted by Republicans and has little chance, if any, of passing the Senate.

As NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, the GOP calls it...

ANDREA SEABROOK: Cut, Cap and Balance. The idea first came up in the staunchly conservative Republican Study Committee. It would cut $111 billion from next year's budget and cap annual government spending at a fraction of the U.S. gross domestic product. That cap would get tighter each year until it reached 18 percent.

The balance part says this. Congress will raise the U.S. debt ceiling if and only if both the House and the Senate pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment would force strict rules on the government about how it balances its budget.

VICKY HARTZLER: This is a new day.

SEABROOK: Freshman Republican Vicky Hartzler of Missouri.

HARTZLER: In America, the people are sovereign and today the people demand accountability. Clearly, Washington is never going to choose to balance its budget, so the people demand that we force it to.

SEABROOK: Hartzler is part of that huge group of brand new Republicans who came to Congress in January, on a wave of Tea Party support. It is increasingly clear that these lawmakers, more than anyone, are writing the agenda in the House of Representatives.

JEFF LANDRY: You know, I'm new to Washington, so sometimes I don't understand why this town makes everything so hard.

SEABROOK: Jeff Landry is another Republican freshman. He's from Louisiana. On the House floor today, he berated President Obama.

LANDRY: Since you refuse to lead with a plan, we have. I'm sorry you don't like our plan, but you don't have a plan or have not put a plan forward.

SEABROOK: House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor have been in meeting after meeting with President Obama trying to hammer out a deal on raising the debt ceiling. But it's unclear whether those leaders can really speak for that freshman class. It's only six months in to this new Congress and twice the House Republican leaders have had to rely on Democratic votes to get key legislation passed.

Here's why, says freshman Robert Schilling. He's thinking of his new granddaughter, Regan(ph), and what he'll be able to say when she asks...

ROBERT SCHILLING: Grandpa, what did you do to help fix this country? I'll be able to tell her that I was part of a class that changed the focus of this town from bloated spending to spending cuts.

SEABROOK: During debate today, Democrats focused on knocking down the idea that Cut, Cap and Balance would solve the country's problems. Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth said those Tea Party groups who yell about taking the country back...

JOHN YARMUTH: We now know where they want to take our country back to, 1966. That was when the spending levels would be required if we pass Cut, Cap and Balance.

SEABROOK: Yarmuth said it's just not realistic to reduce the government by that much that quickly without crippling reductions in vital programs.

YARMUTH: So what Cut, Cap and Balance would really mean is slash, shred and punish. Slash the budget. Shred the safety net. And punish the American citizens who can least afford it.

SEABROOK: And California Democrat Joe Baca said Republicans can't keep telling Americans that cutting taxes for the rich helps the middle class and the poor.

JOE BACA: They fooled the public once. It ain't going to happen again.

SEABROOK: So for the most part, today's debate on the House floor was an exercise - a forum for those new Republicans to explain how they would run the government if they could do it by themselves.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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