WASHINGTON — As House GOP leaders were rounding up recalcitrant lawmakers on Thursday, Nevada GOP Rep. Joe Heck declared he would vote for the party’s bill to ease the debt crisis.
Heck said he planned to vote for the measure sponsored by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. But after a long day during which the bill was debated, GOP leaders postponed a vote while they continued to scramble for support.
The Boehner bill called for a staggered process to allow for up to $2.5 trillion in more government borrowing, accompanied by close to $2.8 trillion in spending cuts and other savings.
Heck said the bill fits his requirements that any increase in borrowing be offset by a corresponding amount of spending cuts and other savings and that it would not increase the marginal tax rates for individuals and businesses.
The two-step process promised that Congress would need to return to the divisive debt matter in months, a scenario rejected by President Barack Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Few if any Democrats were expected to vote for the Republican legislation. That included Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who said she opposed taking multiple steps to raise the debt ceiling to a level that would address the borrowing issue for a foreseeable period.
"I don’t want to come back in six months and have to put this country through this nightmare again," she said. "It sucks the air out of everything else."
After Congress spent a year debating health care reform, Berkley said there was a "prevailing opinion" that lawmakers needed to focus on job creation.
Instead, "we are embroiled in this unproductive debate while our economy is very soft and there are no jobs," she said.
Heck said he was not troubled by Congress revisiting the controversial issue next year, even as lawmakers campaign for re-election.
"We have known we need more time to find a more comprehensive solution," Heck said. He said the Boehner bill would create a 12-member congressional panel that will be charged with reporting back later this year on additional cuts that lawmakers would need to approve in order to trigger more borrowing.
"I think this House plan is an excellent down payment," Heck said. "It is by no means the final payoff, and the way we eventually fix this issue is to pass a balanced-budget amendment and have it ratified by the states."
Boehner and his deputies scrambled on Thursday to gain a majority to pass the bill. While Heck said he made up his mind only on Thursday morning, he maintained he was not squeezed by leadership. "I didn’t feel pressured at all to make a decision," he said.
Heck said he followed a deliberate process of reading the Boehner bill both before and after it was changed in response to an evaluation by the Congressional Budget Office this week. He said he had questions for Boehner aides, debt rating agencies and others.
"In fact this morning I thanked the leader for allowing time for me to reach where I needed to be based on information and not on pressure," Heck said.
Stephens Washington Bureau writer Peter Urban contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @DadTetreault.