WASHINGTON -- House Republicans easily passed their "Cut, Cap and Balance" fiscal plan on Tuesday, a proposal that boosts their standing among Tea Party supporters but has no chance of becoming law.
The bill passed, 234 to 190, on a largely partisan vote.
Five Democrats, including Reps. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Health Shuler (N.C.) and Dan Boren (Okla.), sided with Republicans in passing the measure. Nine Republicans opposed the bill, including Tea Party favorite and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). In a statement issued after the vote, Bachmann said the bill "does not go far enough" and should have included provisions to defund health care reform.
Other Republican defectors included Reps. Walter Jones (N.C.), Francisco Canseco (Texas), Scott DesJarlais (Tenn.), Connie Mack (Fla.) and Ron Paul (Texas). Paul said he has never voted for a debt ceiling increase and never will. In addition, he took issue with Republicans for not including defense cuts in the mix of discretionary cuts.
"All spending must be deemed discretionary and reexamined by Congress each year," Paul said in a statement. "To allow otherwise is pure cowardice."
Tuesday's vote comes after weeks of Republicans touting the bill as proof of their commitment to conservative principles. It includes three provisions: substantial spending cuts, statutory spending caps, and a constitutional amendment to require the government to balance its books each year.
Republicans say the proposal is just the kind of shot in the arm needed to address the nation's staggering $14.4 trillion debt. Specifically, it calls for cutting more than $100 billion in fiscal 2012 and makes drastic spending cuts in areas that Democrats have prioritized as opportunities for investment: clean energy, infrastructure, education and job training. The biggest concern for Democrats, however, is the bill's proposal to gut Medicaid funding by one-third over the next decade.
Both parties know the bill has next to no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate, and President Barack Obama has already threatened a veto. But Republicans have pushed for a record vote on it ahead of the 2012 elections.
Democrats spent much of Tuesday's four-hour debate bashing Republicans for wasting time on a political stunt.
"This bill panders, even grovels, to Tea Party extremists," Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) said. "Thank goodness this bill will never pass the United States Senate. Thank goodness this bill will never become law."
Republicans countered that their fiscal plan is better than nothing, which is what Democrats have put forward. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the author of the GOP bill, said he would welcome debate on a Democratic alternative if there was one.
"If you could slide it across the table to us, we'd love to see it," Chaffetz said.
Partisan tensions flared throughout the debate as both sides accused the other of leadership failure, sometimes with creative flair.
"You guys are ruining this country's fiscal future," Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) said to Republicans. "Shame on you for playing with fire on the United States Constitution. Shame on your 'Cut, Cap and Ruin the United States.'"
Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said the debt debate reminded him of a scene from the book Alice in Wonderland, when Alice told the Cheshire Cat she didn't really care where she went in her travels.
"I get the sense my friends on the other side of the aisle don't really much care where we go," Young said.
The measure now heads to the Senate. A senior GOP aide said Senate Republicans are pushing for a vote this week.
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