House Leaders Tweak Doomed Bill to Stem Conservative Insurrection

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House Republican leaders have sweetened Speaker John Boehner’s debt-ceiling plan to make it more palatable to conservative holdouts, and rank-and-file members said the tweaks would likely be enough to give Boehner enough votes to pass his bill later on Friday.

A night after a dramatic rebuke to Boehner’s stewardship of the House, House Republican leaders informed their members during a closed morning meeting that they had modified the bill to require that a constitutional balanced-budget amendment pass Congress and be sent to the states for ratification before the U.S. borrowing authority can be raised a second time early next year, according to members.

A passel of lawmakers who had until Friday morning rejected Boehner’s plan to raise the debt limit by some $2.5 trillion in two stages said Friday morning that they had changed their mind after the addition of the new balanced-budget amendment. Among them were Mo Brooks of Alabama, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Jeff Landry of Louisiana and Phil Gingrey of Georgia, who said he had become an “enthusiastic yes.” Louie Gohmert of Texas, formerly a no, indicated he was now leaning toward backing the measure. Brooks said predicted that the inducement had swayed at least 10 stubborn holdouts, many of whom have long argued that a balanced-budget amendment was the structural shackle needed to restrain Washington’s penchant for overspending.

But while the change may have mollified restive conservatives, it does nothing to break the impasse that threatens to plunge the nation into an economic crisis if it’s not resolved by the Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department. A balanced-budget amendment needs two-thirds of both houses to pass Congress. While it’s unclear what the language of the provision would be — one version passed the House and narrowly failed in the Senate in the 1990s — it has almost no chance of achieving that level of support today. Boehner’s bill is still dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has been patiently waiting to kill it for days.

After Thursday night’s disaster, Boehner had two options: tack to the left, jilt his Tea Party wing and attempt to forge a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats; or bend to the demands of his right wing and pass a party-line bill that allows Republicans to continue repeating the mantra that they had led when Democrats wouldn’t. He chose the latter, which renders a dead bill deader. It may reduce the embarrassment of failing to find the votes the first time around, but it also eats up time — and there’s not a lot left.

The House is expected to vote on the bill later Friday afternoon.