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Boehner Debt Plan, Revived By Balanced Budget Inclusion, May Have Votes

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) (L) and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) (R) pretend to twist the arms of Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH), July 29. 2011.
Chip Somodevilla
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Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) (L) and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) (R) pretend to twist the arms of Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH), July 29. 2011.

How does Speaker John Boehner, on Friday, get to the 216 House votes he needs to pass the debt-ceiling bill he couldn't get the votes for on Thursday?

He agrees to add a balanced-budget amendment provision to his legislation.

That addition appears to be enough to swing some Republican lawmakers to his side who had previously been against his bill or undecided.

The growing sense now on Capitol Hill is that Boehner may have won over enough of his fellow GOP lawmakers votes to get the 216 "yes" votes his bill needs to pass (normally, he'd need 218 but two Democrats are medically indisposed) so it can be sent to the Senate where it will be summarily killed.

That's a necessary sacrifice to get the legislative process back on track to avoid a first-ever default by the U.S. on its debts after Tuesday.

NPR correspondent Brian Naylor tells us:

With BBA attached, at least two members I spoke with who were "nos" Scott Garrett of NJ and Louis Gohmert of TX (although he says he has to read the bill first) seem to be on board.....and everyone says there will be a vote in the House this afternoon.

Looks like maybe now they're on track....to get something out of the House.

Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona also tweeted Friday morning that he was changing from a "no" to "yes" vote because of the BBA. So that does appear to be the open sesame that gets to or beyond the magic 216.

The thing about the BBA is that it's very unlikely it will be in any final legislation that passes Congress and goes to President Obama for his signature.

But it will allow House Republicans to say they passed it, which gives them a new talking point when they campaign for re-election and some cover if they're challenged on why they didn't cut more spending.

What's more, the conservative Club for Growth, which had opposed Boehner's earlier legislation as too timid, reversed itself Friday. The inclusion of the language requiring passage of a balanced-budget constitutional amendment led the club to say it would no longer hold a vote for Boehner's bill against lawmakers.

So it's Washington gimmickry, the very sort of thing that many of the new House Republicans, and their veteran hardline colleagues with ties to the Tea Party, rail against. But, once again, this is Washington we're talking about.

As it's wont to do, the economy gave everyone a cold splash of reality Friday, lending new urgency Capitol Hill's efforts. The federal government released new data indicating that the recovery was even slower in the first half of the year and the economy even worse in recent years than we had thought.

This time for Boehner, it's axiomatic that he has to be sure he has the votes before he holds the vote.

Another embarrassment like Thursday night's would further so damage his speakership as to raise more questions about his viability in that job. Thursday evening, Boehner was forced to cancel a scheduled vote after he and his leadership team realized they still couldn't count to 217 even after hours of jawboning and arm twisting their reluctant GOP colleagues.

President Obama on Friday appeared not to be putting much stock in the House, however.

For days, it's been clear that whatever the Republican-controlled House was likely to pass, the Democratic-controlled Senate was just as likely to kill.

So a bipartisan compromise would have to come from the Senate, then be presented to the House where it would have enough that was palatable to Democrats that it could pass there even after losing many House GOP votes.

Obama mentioned the House, but not Thursday night's chaos. He didn't mention Boehner though he mentioned by name Senators Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, the Senate majority and minority leaders, respectively.

What's clear now is that any solution to avoid default must be bipartisan. It must have the support of both parties that were sent here to represent the American people -– not just one faction. It will have to have the support of both the House and the Senate. And there are multiple ways to resolve this problem. Senator Reid, a Democrat, has introduced a plan in the Senate that contains cuts agreed upon by both parties. Senator McConnell, a Republican, offered a solution that could get us through this. There are plenty of modifications we can make to either of these plans in order to get them passed through both the House and the Senate and would allow me to sign them into law. And today I urge Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to find common ground on a plan that can get support — that can get support from both parties in the House –- a plan that I can sign by Tuesday.

Tuesday, again, is Aug. 2, the day after which the U.S. Treasury says it will no longer have the money to pay all of the nation's bills as they come due without a raise in the debt ceiling.

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.