This was a vote on a resolution outlining the rules for floor debate on a measure to raise the debt limit by $1.9 trillion, and enact statutory "pay-as-you-go" (PAYGO) rules -- which require that any tax cuts or spending increases be offset with tax increases or budget cuts so as not to increase the federal budget defect.
The resolution set up two votes on two distinct sections of the bill. The first section, dealing with the debt limit, would be automatically passed once the resolution was adopted. The second section, dealing with PAYGO, would be put to a separate vote. If the House voted down the PAYGO measure, the chamber would have taken no official action on the debt limit. This procedural strategy allowed members to vote against raising the debt limit, but in favor of the new PAYGO rules.
As part of the House 2010 budget resolution, the chamber voted to raise the debt limit on April 30, 2009. The Senate amended the debt limit measure (H. J. Res. 45), adding PAYGO language, and sent it back to the House on January 28. Thus, House passage of the measure would clear it for the president's signature.
Rep. George Miller (D-CA) argued that such PAYGO rules were vital to deficit reduction during President Clinton's two two terms in office: "I find it interesting that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, the Republicans, say that this is a sham. You know what? It was the law for a decade under the Clinton administration, and I guess it wasn't a sham because the first thing the Republicans did was to repeal PAYGO so that they could run up the massive deficits of the Bush years. We're asking to put this back in place because this is how we cleaned up the unsustainable deficits of the Reagan years. This is how we got, for the first time, a surplus for this country that evaporated in the Republican irresponsibility. PAYGO's not a sham. There's no more sacred cows…. Finally, under President Clinton we did it and the deficits came down, and we left you with an inheritance of $5 trillion that you squandered, you wasted. And now you want not to play by the rules. The rules are you should pay as you go."
Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) denounced the PAYGO rules and criticized Democrats for presiding over an expansion of the national debt: "I rise today to express great concern on behalf of our children and our grandchildren who are going to bear the burden of this expansion of our national debt. Today we're going to vote on the sixth increase in the debt limit in the past 2 1/2 years. After today we will have added $4 trillion to the government credit limit. Who's going to pay this bill? Congress must address the root of this debt limit increase. It's the spending….This whole PAYGO thing is a sham. We just had a gentleman in New York that was doing a kind of a sham transaction, and he's probably going to--in fact, he is in prison for a Ponzi scheme. That's what this whole situation is is a Ponzi scheme, because what we're doing is we're borrowing and spending and borrowing and spending; we're borrowing the money to make the interest payments on the debt that we already have. And what do the Democrats want to do? They want to borrow some more money."
The House agreed to the resolution by a vote of 217-212. 217 Democrats voted "yea." All 175 Republicans present and 37 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the House voted to raise the national debt limit by $1.9 trillion and proceeded to the question of enacting statutory "pay-as-you-go" rules requiring that all tax cuts and spending increases be offset with tax increases or budget cuts.