This was a vote on a joint resolution that would enact statutory "pay-as-you-go" rules" requiring that all tax cuts and spending increases be offset with tax increases or budget cuts, and, in effect, increase the debt limit by $1.9 trillion.
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.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) argued the PAYGO rules would be key to reducing the deficit, and eventually returning to a balanced budget: "Under President Clinton, PAYGO helped turn record deficits into a $5.6 trillion projected surplus. We also know that PAYGO was disregarded, waived and finally allowed to expire under the last administration. And as I have pointed out on this chart, our deficits exploded and, indeed, our economy was hurt as well as those deficits exploded. Some argue that the PAYGO legislation on the floor today is too weak. But I'd point out that it brings our country more fiscal discipline than it has seen in nearly a decade. The perfect ought not to be the enemy of the good. PAYGO can't get us out of our fiscal hole, but it can keep us from digging it deeper. When my Republican colleagues raise their concerns about our growing debt, I absolutely agree with them. They're right. All of us understand this debt is not sustainable. But it's not enough to complain about the debt; we have to do something about it. If my colleagues are sincere in their concerns, I hope they'll work with us to pass PAYGO and contribute to the bipartisan fiscal commission announced by President Obama….America's dangerous fiscal condition threatens our prosperity and our place in the world. If my colleagues will forgive a Democrat for paraphrasing Ronald Reagan, there are no easy answers to this mess, but there is a simple answer. The answer lies in recommitting ourselves to the principle that has served our prosperity so well in the past, the principle of responsibility. Ronald Reagan was right. Let us pass this legislation."
Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) argued the legislation would prove ineffective in addressing the nation's budget woes, and criticized the manner in which the Democratic leadership chose to handle the question of raising the debt limit: "If this so-called PAYGO legislation fails, there is no increase in the debt limit and you cannot separate the two concepts. If this legislation passes, the debt limit increases by an astounding $1.9 trillion, the largest one-time increase in the debt limit ever. Since the majority came into control of Congress 3 years ago, the debt limit has been increased by over $5.3 trillion, or by nearly 60 percent. Despite this massive heap of debt thrust on the American people, Democrats plan to pile on even more debt next year. According to the President's newest budget proposal, the amount of debt subject to the limit will increase by nearly $1.4 trillion from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2011. A number that large is hard to put into perspective, but let me offer a few points of reference. The President intends to increase the debt in just 1 year by an amount equal to the entire GDP of Canada. This 1-year increase in the debt is larger than the GDP of India, Mexico, Australia, or South Korea. It is larger than the GDP of Ireland, Poland, and Belgium combined. We've heard a lot of talk recently from the President about the need to get America's fiscal house in order. However, according to the President's own budget, Congress will have to raise the debt limit again before 2011 is over."
The House passed the joint resolution by a vote 233-187. 233 Democrats voted "yea." All 172 Republicans present and 15 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the House passed a joint resolution that would enact statutory "pay-as-you-go" rules" requiring that all tax cuts and spending increases be offset with tax increases or budget cuts, and, in effect, increase the debt limit by $1.9 trillion.