Roe, Griffith discuss debt stance
Bristol Herald Courier,
Jul 28, 2011 -
The Mountain Empire’s two Republican congressmen face tough decisions when it comes to the country’s debt ceiling debate: Do they stand by their party’s leaders and support a plan to cut federal spending by nearly $3 trillion over the next decade or reject it in hopes of getting Congress to tighten its belt a little more?
“We don’t want to hurt the United States,” U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th, said Wednesday when the Southwest Virginia congressman explained his stance on the Boehner plan. “But we also don’t want to do anything that could be considered as being a symbolic gesture and not have any real impact.”
Sponsored by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, the proposal seeks to significantly cut federal spending and jump-start an effort to amend the U.S. Constitution so it requires the federal government to balance its budget each year instead of running up deficits.
The plan also gives President Barack Obama permission to raise the country’s debt ceiling. If the ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2, the country would go into default on its debts – which would make it harder for people to get credit, raise their interest rates on existing loans, and have other negative consequences.
Specifically, Boehner’s plan seeks to immediately cut federal spending by $850 billion and increase the debt ceiling by $900 billion, which would keep the country afloat for six months. It would then raise the debt ceiling by another $1.8 billion, but only after Congress approves $1.8 trillion more in spending cuts.
This two-pronged strategy goes against a proposal supported by Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate. Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Senate’s proposal would cut spending by $2.7 trillion over the next decade and raise the debt ceiling enough to keep the country afloat until 2012.
Differences between these two plans, both of which have changed considerably over the past few months, have put members of the House and the Senate in the midst of a stalemate that threatens to keep the country from raising its debt ceiling by next week’s deadline.
This stalemate prompted both Obama and Boehner to make televised speeches Monday outlining their reasons for supporting their deficit-reduction plans. It has also prompted an unprecedented amount of feedback from the public that periodically shut down Congress’ phone and e-mail systems.
“Our phone system was overloaded,” said Amanda Little, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st. The Northeast Tennessee congressman’s website and e-mail system also went down on several occasions since Obama and Boehner spoke, she said.
Many of the constituents who could get through to Roe’s office raised concerns about whether they would still get their Social Security checks or other government benefits if the country goes into default, Little said. But they’ve also been saying something else.
“The majority of the calls we’ve been getting are from people who are telling us to stand our ground,” Little said Wednesday, adding that they, like Griffith’s constituents, are demanding that the congressman only approve a debt ceiling proposal that includes meaningful spending cuts.
And it’s this search for meaningful cuts that’s created another division among members of the House and Senate that could stand in the way of a compromise being reached by the deadline.
That’s because the Republican Study Committee, a coalition of conservative senators and representatives, announced Tuesday that it feels Boehner’s plan does not do enough to reduce federal spending over the coming years and urged its members to reject the proposal.
“We advocate something much more than that,” committee leader U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told the Associated Press when asked why he’s urging rejection of Boehner’s proposal. “That’s what we fight for every day.”
Jordan’s announcement causes problems for Boehner’s plan, which requires 217 votes to pass. To meet this goal, all but 23 of the House’s 240 Republicans will have to support the proposal since every House Democrat is expected to vote against it.
Earlier this summer, the Republican Senate Committee introduced the Cut, Cap, and Balance Plan, which would raise the debt ceiling if Congress cuts federal spending by $5.8 trillion over the next 10 years, approves a balanced budget amendment and caps federal spending at 18 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The proposal passed by a vote of 234-190 when it hit the House floor July 19, but failed in the Senate three days later. Roe supported the plan, while Griffith voted against it because he said its proposed spending cuts don’t go far enough to impact the country’s fiscal situation.
Griffith, who’s serving his first term after defeating the longtime Democratic congressman in a wave of voter dissatisfaction last November, said he will apply the same line of thought when Boehner’s proposal comes up for a vote this afternoon – if the measure does not include what he called “substantial spending cuts” the Southwest Virginia congressman said he will vote against it.
Little said Roe is in the same position when it comes to Boehner’s plan: “We’re trying to make sure there are forceful cuts in the bill,” she said. “But we also want to make sure we don’t downgrade our bond rating or go into default.”
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