Herrera Beutler: Debt limit ‘not an easy vote for me’

Congresswoman said she laid out her criteria for supporting bill early on

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler wasn’t in the room on July 26 when House Speaker John Boehner admonished dissident Tea Party freshmen to “get their asses in line” and pass his debt-ceiling bill.

“This freshman decided she wanted to gather information on the bill,” the Camas Republican told The Columbian on Thursday after returning home from Washington, D.C., for the August break. “I can make up my own mind.”

Herrera Beutler ended up voting for Boehner’s revised bill to create a two-step process for raising the debt ceiling and cutting the federal deficit. The bill was tabled in the Senate but ended up as the framework for the compromise bill President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday, hours before the government’s authority to borrow money expired.

Herrera Beutler said she supported Boehner’s effort to work with the President on crafting a “big bargain” that would combine deep spending cuts with reform of the federal tax code and entitlement programs. Boehner walked out of those talks on July 22, accusing the President of changing the ground rules on revenue increases.

“He put his neck out there,” Herrera Beutler said. “He worked hard to come up with a solution that was fair and reasonable. We need to end some subsidies.”

The problem with getting that kind of long-term compromise through the House of Representatives is that “there are those who really think they know the best way to do it” and don’t understand how things work in the House, she said without mentioning names.

“In fact, in the House, the way legislation is passed is through collaboration,” she said. “You have to have a majority of people believe in something to pass it.” A group of people can stop things from happening, she said, but when it comes to getting a bill through, majority rules.

Herrera Beutler said she laid out her criteria for voting to raise the debt ceiling early on, both to make her bottom line clear to voters and to remind herself. She said she would not vote for a bill to raise the debt limit unless it included significant spending cuts, no increase in federal tax rates, and protection for Social Security benefits.

“I did that because I knew things were going to get really intense,” she said. “I went down to meet with the speaker on Thursday (July 28) and I asked him, ‘Are my three things addressed?’ It was spelled out for me that Social Security was exempt. I feel that I was listened to.”

She was also reassured to see that the final deal would require both the House and Senate to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, a vote that critics say has no chance of passing Congress and being ratified by the states.

“If we’d had a balanced budget amendment 15 years ago, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” she said.

In fact, Boehner already knew her position, she said, because she made it clear to him back in January, at the first meeting of the new GOP caucus, held in Baltimore. When no one else rose to speak about the need to get spending under control, she said, she stood up and said that was the whole reason she had run for Congress. “I choked up just a little bit,” she said.

Members of the Washington delegation on the other side of the aisle got the message, too, she said.

“I happened on Norm Dicks, Rick Larsen and Adam Smith” before the Aug. 1 vote, she said. “I asked them, ‘How are you gentlemen going to vote?’ Norm said, ‘I’m a yes.’ He said, ‘You’re not going to break any of your promises on this.’”

In the end, the vote did not split along party lines, she noted. Both liberal Democrats and Tea Party Republicans voted against it.

Voting to give President Obama authority to increase the debt ceiling “was not an easy vote for me,” she said. “It wasn’t something I was happy to do, but overall, we changed the trajectory. For the first time, we said, ‘You can’t have a blank check.’”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.