This was a procedural vote on a resolution outlining the rules for floor debate on a measure to 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.
If passed, this particular procedural motion -- known as the “previous question" -- effectively ends debate and brings the pending legislation to an immediate vote.
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. Jim McGovern (D-MA) argued that while raising the debt limit may be unpopular, it was the only responsible course of action. In addition, he praised the new PAYGO rules, arguing they would put the country on a path to fiscal responsibility: " Madam Speaker, this vote is both historic and difficult. It is historic because it is reinstating the pay-as-you-go law, or PAYGO. This is one tool in the effort to reduce the deficit and return fiscal common sense back to our budget. And it is difficult because this resolution includes a $1.9 trillion increase in the debt limit....None of us are eager to increase the debt limit. But we have a responsibility to take action. The Treasury Department has informed Congress that the United States will reach the current statutory limit on the national debt on February 11. That is next Thursday. If the debt limit is not increased before that date, Treasury will not be able to meet the obligations of the U.S. Government."
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) denounced the measure, accusing Democrats of showing no commitment to fiscal discipline or an open legislative process:"I rise in opposition to this closed rule. The charade of Speaker Pelosi running ``the most open, honest, and ethical Congress'' is once again confirmed today that that's not happening. That is not happening here again on the floor, and it's related to this activity that we went through in the Rules Committee upstairs just yesterday. At a time of record deficits and record unemployment, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are simply trying to blame Republicans and George Bush rather than looking at their own responsibility of what they have done in the last year that has placed enormous, enormous financial strain on this country….I think it would have been appropriate this morning for the gentleman from Massachusetts or anybody from the Democratic Party to stand up and say, You know, we did guess. I know those Republicans told us this wouldn't work, but we really guessed and we guessed wrong. The Vice President has the guts to say that. I think this body should say the same thing, rather than trying to blame this on George Bush."
The House agreed to the motion by a vote of 233-195. 233 Democrats voted "yea." All 175 Republicans present and 20 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the House proceeded to 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" rules requiring that all tax cuts and spending increases be offset with tax increases or budget cuts.