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Joe Walsh, Jesse Jackson Jr., Luis Gutierrez, Randy Hultgren: On the default deadlocked Congress

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WASHINGTON -- I've been covering Congress since September 1993, and the deadlock over raising the debt ceiling is the worse mess I've seen.

I've reported on big partisan blowouts over the years -- but nothing close to this, where even the risk of a default could hurt all our wallets right away. House Speaker John Boehner barely passed his default plan on Friday -- with only GOP support and with only one vote to spare. It was a symbolic vote because the Senate, as expected, swiftly tabled his legislation.

I spent Friday in the Capitol, talking to Illinois lawmakers about the stalemate:

Boehner's team worked hard to round-up his votes. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) ended up with Boehner. On Thursday and Friday morning, I heard Hultgren was leaning no -- if for no other reason than he may be headed into a March 2012 GOP primary with another freshman, Rep. Joe Walsh -- who was one of the 22 no votes.

"I didn't change, the bill changed," Hultgren told me outside the House chamber after Boehner squeezed out his face-saving rollcall. To win votes, including Hultgren's, Boehner added language to start the process of sending a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification.

"It's frustrating. We've known for days this day was coming. It doesn't need to be this way. The American people are frustrated with Congress," Hultgren told me.

On Thursday and Friday Hultgren met three times with Boehner; twice an individual meeting. He met twice with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, with a one-on-one; a group meeting with House Whip Kevin McCarthy and Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam chief deputy whip.

♦♦♦

Boehner's hands are tied because he needs the votes of freshmen hard-line conservatives -- some, like Walsh, associated with the Tea Party -- who are loathe to compromise, coming to Washington to change the way Congress does business.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and I talked Friday in his office and recalled his freshman debut -- as a firebrand rabblerouser.

On Dec. 10, 1992 -- before he was sworn-in -- Gutierrez criticized then House Speaker Thomas Foley for resisting reforming "the belly of the monster,' and pushed for what became a pay freeze for lawmakers.

The difference? "I came to change the institution," Gutierrez told me. "I didn't come to burn it down."

♦♦♦

I've thought an irony in the negotiations over raising the debt ceiling is that some hard-line conservatives were willing to risk the consequences of a default. The markets dropped this week because of the deadlock. Maybe a default would trigger a greater loss; maybe not. But why take the risk?

"The greater risk to me and the markets," Walsh told me when we talked in his office, "is if we don't get this right. The greater risk if we are downgraded," a reference to the threatened AAA rating.

Boehner wooed the Tea Party faction for his Friday vote, but some -- like Walsh held out for a better deal. Congress will be searching for a solution this weekend -- and the House may end up dealing with a Democratic Senate bill designed to woo GOP votes. In that case, Boehner, for better or worse, won't be dependent on his Tea Party faction.

Will the Tea Party faction lose clout? Said Walsh, They "certainly will have less influence" on the final product.

♦♦♦

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and I chatted outside the House chamber, just after the vote on the Boehner bill, and I asked him about the mood.

"A precedent has been set on how this Congress will negotiate with Barack Obama for the remainder of his presidency," Jackson told me. "And there is no end to the vitriol that we have seen in the past few weeks. I expect this process to continue through the election season."

The House and Senate try again today.

WASHINGTON -- I've been covering Congress since September 1993, and the deadlock over raising the debt ceiling is the worse mess I've seen.

I've reported on big partisan blowouts over the years -- but nothing close to this, where even the risk of a default could hurt all our wallets right away. House Speaker John Boehner barely passed his default plan on Friday -- with only GOP support and with only one vote to spare. It was a symbolic vote because the Senate, as expected, swiftly tabled his legislation.

I spent Friday in the Capitol, talking to Illinois lawmakers about the stalemate:

Boehner's team worked hard to round-up his votes. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) ended up with Boehner. On Thursday and Friday morning, I heard Hultgren was leaning no -- if for no other reason than he may be headed into a March 2012 GOP primary with another freshman, Rep. Joe Walsh -- who was one of the 22 no votes.

"I didn't change, the bill changed," Hultgren told me outside the House chamber after Boehner squeezed out his face-saving rollcall. To win votes, including Hultgren's, Boehner added language to start the process of sending a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification.

"It's frustrating. We've known for days this day was coming. It doesn't need to be this way. The American people are frustrated with Congress," Hultgren told me.

On Thursday and Friday Hultgren met three times with Boehner; twice an individual meeting. He met twice with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, with a one-on-one; a group meeting with House Whip Kevin McCarthy and Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam chief deputy whip.

♦♦♦

Boehner's hands are tied because he needs the votes of freshmen hard-line conservatives -- some, like Walsh, associated with the Tea Party -- who are loathe to compromise, coming to Washington to change the way Congress does business.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and I talked Friday in his office and recalled his freshman debut -- as a firebrand rabblerouser.

On Dec. 10, 1992 -- before he was sworn-in -- Gutierrez criticized then House Speaker Thomas Foley for resisting reforming "the belly of the monster,' and pushed for what became a pay freeze for lawmakers.

The difference? "I came to change the institution," Gutierrez told me. "I didn't come to burn it down."

♦♦♦

I've thought an irony in the negotiations over raising the debt ceiling is that some hard-line conservatives were willing to risk the consequences of a default. The markets dropped this week because of the deadlock. Maybe a default would trigger a greater loss; maybe not. But why take the risk?

"The greater risk to me and the markets," Walsh told me when we talked in his office, "is if we don't get this right. The greater risk if we are downgraded," a reference to the threatened AAA rating.

Boehner wooed the Tea Party faction for his Friday vote, but some -- like Walsh held out for a better deal. Congress will be searching for a solution this weekend -- and the House may end up dealing with a Democratic Senate bill designed to woo GOP votes. In that case, Boehner, for better or worse, won't be dependent on his Tea Party faction.

Will the Tea Party faction lose clout? Said Walsh, They "certainly will have less influence" on the final product.

♦♦♦

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and I chatted outside the House chamber, just after the vote on the Boehner bill, and I asked him about the mood.

"A precedent has been set on how this Congress will negotiate with Barack Obama for the remainder of his presidency," Jackson told me. "And there is no end to the vitriol that we have seen in the past few weeks. I expect this process to continue through the election season."

The House and Senate try again today.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on July 30, 2011 9:52 AM.

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