MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
Here's the problem facing Congress when it comes to raising the debt ceiling. Many lawmakers now seem to agree on what needs to be done. They do not agree on how to do it.
KELLY: Many don't want to vote for it even if they did agree, and whatever they do vote for they don't want to be blamed at the next election.
INSKEEP: It's with those many realties in mind that the House today plans to vote on a proposal that nobody expects to become law. The plan would limit government spending and demand a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
KELLY: Though it is expected to die in the Senate or on the president's desk, it may clear the way for lawmakers to approve a different plan to avoid default by the August 2nd deadline.
Here's NPR's David Welna.
DAVID WELNA: Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz has been pushing for weeks to get the GOP-controlled House to vote on the Cut, Cap and Balance bill he's sponsoring.
Representative JASON CHAFFETZ (Republican, Utah): We're asking that if the president wants to raise the debt ceiling, we must solve the underlying problem, and the underlying problem is we're borrowing, taxing and spending too much money in this country.
WELNA: Late last week, just as it became clear that White House talks for a debt ceiling deal had become deadlocked, House GOP leaders unexpectedly announced they would hold a vote today on Chaffetz's bill.
House Majority leader Eric Cantor cast the decision in terms of the impression it would make on the voting public.
Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia): So that we can demonstrate that we are getting things under control and that the people who put us here can gain some confidence that we're going to begin to live like they do, around their kitchen tables and in their businesses, stop spending money we don't have, and begin to manage this debt and deficit down to balance.
WELNA: But President Obama dismissed today's Cut, Cap and Balance vote, calling it making a political statement.
President BARACK OBAMA: We don't need a constitutional amendment to do our jobs. The Constitution already tells us to do our jobs.
WELNA: Yesterday the White House said the president would veto the Cut, Cap and Balance measure if it were presented for his signature.
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told reporters in a conference call that the limits the bill puts on spending would mean $400 billion in cuts every year over the next decade; it also requires two-thirds supermajorities in both the House and Senate for any tax increases.
Mr. DAN PFEIFFER (White House Communications Director): Cut, Cap and Balance is a great - may be a good soundbite, but it would have a devastating impact on our economy and the guarantees that we provide seniors as part of Social Security and Medicare.
WELNA: Despite its strictures on spending, the bill would not actually balance the budget. It simply conditions raising the debt ceiling on Congress passing a separate balanced budget amendment.
Maryland's Chris Van Hollen is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
Representative CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (Democrat, Maryland): It says unless you pass this sort of twisted version of an amendment to the Constitution, unless you pass that, we're going to allow the United States to default on its obligations.
WELNA: But a vote for Cut, Cap and Balance could provide House Republicans some political cover, if they wish to support some other means of getting the debt ceiling raised in time to avoid default.
House Speaker John Boehner late last week spoke of today's vote as a necessary step to move forward.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; Speaker of the House): Let's get through that vote, and then we'll make decisions about what'll come after it.
WELNA: In the Democratic-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid warned yesterday that Congress is fast running out of time to avert a debt default crisis.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): Because of that, we're going to stay in session every day, including Saturdays and Sundays, until Congress passes legislation that prevents the United States from defaulting on our obligations. I've spoken to the Republican leader. He understands the necessity of our being in.
WELNA: But Republican leader Mitch McConnell also seemed to believe in having the Senate vote on the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation before moving on to anything else.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): Not only is this legislation just the kind of thing Washington needs right now, it may be the only option we have if you want to see the debt limit raised at all.
WELNA: In fact, there is another option, one that McConnell himself proposed last week. It's a backstop plan in which Congress authorizes President Obama to raise the debt ceiling, even if Congress votes against it, but that measure does not require any of the spending cuts Republicans have been demanding.
The Senate may approve that plan later this week and send it to the House. There some spending cuts would be added to make the measure more attractive to House Republicans. More than half of them will need to be on board for raising the debt ceiling and avoiding default.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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