WASHINGTON - The seven U.S. House members from Louisiana voted Friday with their parties on legislation raising the national debt ceiling.
Two hours later, both Louisiana senators voted against the House legislation, sponsored by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. U.S. Senate Democrats then offered their own plan, which is not expected to get out of the chamber because it doesn’t have the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster.
The developments left the two chambers at ground zero with just four days to go before Tuesday, when the Obama administration says the nation will begin defaulting on its loans, crippling the economy.
The Boehner bill passed largely along party lines with the Republican majority victorious on a vote of 218-210. Louisiana’s six GOP congressmen voted in favor of the Boehner plan while the lone Democrat opposed.
Both Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, and Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Louisiana, voted to table the Boehner bill, a move that passed 59-41.
Vitter bucked his party. He said earlier in the week that he would vote against the Boehner bill because it does not do enough to curb federal spending.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had an alternative measure to raise the debt limit by $2.4 trillion, enough to meet President Barack Obama’s terms that it tide the Treasury over until 2013. The Senate is expected to consider that legislation on Sunday.
“We are almost out of time” for a compromise, warned President Barack Obama as U.S. financial markets trembled at the prospect of economic chaos next week. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was down for a sixth straight session.
The White House called the Boehner bill a non-starter. Obama administration press secretary Jay Carney issued a statement that called it a “political exercise” and said congressional leaders should turn their efforts to a compromise.
Louisiana Republicans acknowledged that the U.S. House measure was more of a statement on the GOP position than any legislation with a chance of passing the U.S. Senate. The measure was not much different than a cut, cap and balance budget measure approved by the House and killed by the Senate last week.
“This is a vote in futility,” said Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.
Freshman Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans, expressed frustration with House Republicans, especially their request to only pass a six-month debt ceiling bill and deal with the matter in two segments, he said.
“You’re really playing a game passing this knowing that it would send us back here in December,” Richmond said. “We’ve been playing games with the emotions of the Americans this entire term.”
The Boehner bill, which would cut spending by $900 billion over 10 years while increasing the debt limit by an equal amount, contained a poison pill for Democrats, who don’t want another debt limit vote before the 2012 election.
Republican Rep. Jeff Landry of New Iberia was among a group of renegade Republicans who torpedoed Boehner’s first attempt on Thursday night by vowing not to vote for it.
The crew delivered its support on Friday after Boehner included a provision that would require a balanced budget amendment as part of the second debt ceiling vote.
“It was the right thing to do because it got to me to where I was comfortable with the bill,” Landry said. “Leadership is not getting what you want, it’s getting what you need and what this country needs is a balanced budget.”
Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, welcomed the offering, saying it gets the nation one step closer to a balanced budget while not raising taxes.
Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, called the Boehner measure the best foundation for any compromise. Cassidy joined colleagues in hunkering down for what looks like a long work weekend.
“Clearly, this is the end of the first chapter and the beginning of the second,” Cassidy said.
Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, said such stalemates will continue unless the Republicans capture the Senate and the White House in 2012. “Until then we’re just going to have to try to do the best we can,” Fleming said.
Rep. Steve Scalise called the Boehner bill a step to finally solve the problem of runaway federal spending and criticized the White House and Senate for failing to propose an alternative.
“The president continues to act like the commentator in the booth when people want a quarterback on the field,” said Scalise, a Metairie Republican.
Meanwhile, executives from the country’s biggest banks met with U.S. Treasury officials to discuss how debt auctions will be handled if Congress fails to raise the borrowing limit before Tuesday’s deadline.
The eyes of Louisiana’s financial industry also are on Washington as representatives try to gauge the impact that any default would have around the state.
Rusty Cloutier, president at Lafayette-based MidSouth Bank, said interest rates dropped Friday due to the sluggish economy. Any default would likely not be felt unless the stalemate drags on, Cloutier said.
“This is not going to be a crisis automatically,” he said.
State Treasurer John N. Kennedy said the state would not default on its bonds because a program requires any debt to be paid first. The state, however, is assessing its revenues to determine what is available should the Washington standoff continue.
“The truth is that nobody knows,” Kennedy said of the impact on any federal default. “We’re in uncharted territory.”
Bob Israel, president of the Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association, said his industry would be hurt only if interest rates start creeping up. So far, dealers have seen no impact of any potential crisis.
“Our customers have not stopped buying, our lenders have not stopped lending,” Israel said. “Everybody is waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Cloutier expects the sides to reach a deal before the nation goes into default, he said.
“It’s like going to a scary movie,” Cloutier said. “You know what you are going to see.”
David Espo of The Associated Press contributed to this report.