Apparently, 'tis better to take away Congressional pay than to monkey with the debt ceiling.
The Senate was the scene of a flurry of Pennsylvania-related activity this evening, as it voted to table -- or kill -- Pat Toomey's debt limit bill and then unanimously adopted Bob Casey's Congressional paycheck bill.
Toomey gave his maiden speech this afternoon, then saw his maiden bill go down as Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., moved to table it. The 52-47 vote was entirely party-line, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against. (Hawaii Democrat Daniel Akaka was the missing vote.)Congress must act to allow the federal government to borrow more than $14.3 trillion, a figure the government likely will reach in the next few months. Fiscal conservatives want to use the debt limit to extract drastic concessions on the budget; Toomey has advocated a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, among other possible remedies.
The Toomey bill -- brought to the floor as an amendment to a patent reform bill and co-sponsored by Louisiana Republican David Vitter -- would have required the government to service the debt first if the cap is reached. Toomey argued this would take the threat of a default off the table, thus giving him and his cohorts more room to negotiate budget concessions (probably the real reason the bill went down).
Toomey mixed it up with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke about his proposal in hearings, but the Obama administration kept up its line that failing to raise the debt ceiling would bring on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or something like that. Congressional Democrats also had a snappy nickname for the bill: Pay China First (pay no mind to the fact that most of the debt is domestically held).
Casey's proposal, meanwhile, sailed through. He appeared at a press conference two weeks ago with the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who spoke on the floor in favor of the bill today. At first, the GOP's resident objector -- Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn -- lodged an objection, through Vitter, but then he withdrew it and the bill was adopted by unanimous consent without a vote.
Casey and Boxer proposed the bill last month as a way to give members of Congress an extra incentive not to shut down the government, since they would still get paid under current law during a shutdown. The bill also would bar them from getting back pay -- which other civil servants would receive -- when the shutdown ends.