The words are infamous. And they came back to haunt Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) in his 2004 White House bid.
"I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," Kerry said about voting in favor of legislation to fund troops in Iraq and Afghanistan before voting nay a year later.
Kerry later described his justification for the vote as "one of those inarticulate moments."
And on Tuesday night, members of the House of Representatives may also have the chance to vote against something...before possibly voting in favor of something....a few months down the road.
On Tuesday, the House Republican leadership plans to put a measure on the floor to increase the debt ceiling.
This is what's called a "clean" or "straight up or down" vote. The GOP won't attach any provisos or caveats to the bill. No amendments. No strings. No framework for reducing spending. The question is simple. Will the House approve a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling?
And the answer from Democrats and Republicans in the House will undoubtedly be a resounding no.
So why even bring such a bill before the House? After all, Republicans are opposed to raising the debt ceiling without securing an agreement on spending cuts larger than the debt limit increase. And many lawmakers backed by the tea party don't think Congress should vote on hiking the debt limit at all, no matter what.
The answer is best found in a series of GOP talking points distributed to House Republicans last week and obtained by Fox.
The House GOP braintrust anticipated some of these very questions.
"Q: Why are you bringing up this bill in the first place because the House shouldn't evenconsider a debt limit increase?
A: Without significant spending cuts and reforms to reduce our debt, there will be no debtlimit increase. And the cuts should be greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority the president is given. The only thing more irresponsible than approving a clean debt limit increase would be increasing the debt limit without securing spending cuts greater than the amount of the increase."
"Q: Why are House Republicans bringing up a bill that they don't intend to support andknow will fail?
A: As late as last week, the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats haverepeatedly called on Congress to quickly consider a ‘clean' debt limit increase without any spending cuts or reforms. This vote will demonstrate to President Obama, Secretary Geithner and House Democrats that they should abandon this unreasonable position because it is so far out of step with the rest of America. Despite the fact that only 11 percent of Americans agree with them, it's clear that Washington Democrats are dead-set on increasing the debt limit without spending cuts and reforms. Once Washington Democrats know this is not an option, they will hopefully begin serious discussions about how we can cut up President Obama's credit cards."
That's true. But this vote also accomplishes other Republican goals, too.
First, if the president and Congressional leaders carve a deal to up the debt limit and slash spending, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will inevitably ask his rank and file to support the agreement. Despite a potential arrangement on reducing spending, tea party conservatives will focus on the debt limit increase that Boehner's asking Republicans to approve. Some of these same Republicans will face primary challenges and political heat solely for voting to increase the debt limit, regardless of the accompanying cuts.
Therefore, by engineering a separate, unfettered vote that inevitably will fail, Republicans will have documented a vote where their members voted against hiking the debt ceiling. And if and when an agreement is reached later this summer and they vote yes, the GOP can then say to its base that it only voted for a debt limit increase because it simultaneously voted for steep spending reductions.
Regardless, some could interpret that vote as a "John Kerry" moment. But by the same token, a two-vote strategy is wise for Republicans. This enables them to cast a no vote and steel their resolve against a debt limit increase. And if and when there is an agreement with the White House, they can contrast Tuesday's "clean" vote against the vote where they wrangled significant spending reductions out of the Obama Administration.
Otherwise, without Tuesday's vote, Republicans will have no tally in which they can demonstrate to their base that they voted against raising the debt ceiling.
For weeks on Capitol Hill, there's been talk that Republicans might hold a "moot" debt limit vote just to show how hard it would be to raise the debt limit and to place a marker. Plus, if President Obama and Congressional negotiators can't reach an agreement, Republicans can point to this vote as the reason vast spending reductions are essential. In addition, they're holding the vote more than two months ahead of when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says the federal government will overextend itself. By doing a vote now, even if it seems destined to fail, no one can accuse Republicans of not "trying" to raise the debt limit. They can simply point to this failed vote and argue there wasn't enough support in the House.
But holding a vote like this doesn't come without some degree of peril for Republicans.
There's been concern that such a vote could rattle the financial markets, even if everyone assures Wall Street this is just a "test vote."
Republicans devote an entire section of their talking points to explaining how approving a debt limit increase without spending cuts would be even worse for the markets. In addition, Republicans point out that nine debt ceiling increases have failed in Congress since 1975. None is believed to have alarmed the markets.
That said, Republicans are making sure this bill has little chance of passage.
Republicans are bringing this bill to the floor under a procedure called "Suspension of the Rules."
So-called "suspension" bills come up frequently in Congress. But the suspension process is typically reserved for non-controversial issues, like saluting athletic teams or naming federal facilities. Still, the House sometimes handles substantive legislative issues via suspension of the rules if it's clear a wide majority of lawmakers support the issue.
In short, suspension bills make it easier to bring a bill to the floor quickly. Debate runs about 40 minutes. But there's a trade-off for the expedited process: the bill must garner a yes from two-thirds of all members voting and present.
In other words, if the House is at full membership with 435 members, 290 must vote yea in order for a suspension bill to pass.
The House currently has 432 members. Rep.-elect Kathy Hochul (D-NY) who won a special election last week is not expected to be sworn-in until later this week. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) hasn't voted since she was shot. That effectively brings the voting number to a maximum of 431. Two-thirds of 431 is 287. And under suspension of the rules, it is extremely unlikely 287 lawmakers will vote yes to increase the debt ceiling.
In addition, Tuesday is the first day the House is in session this week due to Memorial Day. The House doesn't meet until 2 pm. And the first votes of the week are almost always delayed until 6:30 pm.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been spooked about the reaction of Wall Street to votes since September 29, 2008. That's when the House tried to approve the so-called "bailout" bill that created the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The bill initially failed in the House. And since the market was open during the mid-afternoon vote, the Dow plunged 778 points as the bill cratered in the House. The Dow's drop provided a real-time financial metric to the action on the House floor. The 778 point plunge remains the biggest point loss ever for the Dow. $1.2 trillion in market capitalization disappeared in moments.
Of course, one could argue that such a precipitous decline in the Dow could make the GOP's point that the market will respond negatively to a debt ceiling increase without substantial cuts. But Republicans don't want to be blamed for an unbridled drop. Just a few weeks ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) spoke to the Economic Club of New York about the debt limit. One of the reasons he spoke in the evening was to avoid immediate market reaction. In addition, Boehner's office waited to release his remarks until 4:01 pm, just after the market halted trading for the day.
Therefore, holding a debt limit increase vote that's nearly certain to fail averts any real-time interpretation by the stock market.
Will anyone vote to raise the debt ceiling Tuesday night?
"I will not vote for a clean debt limit extension if no Republicans vote for it and instead use it just to demagogue," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). "I hope Republicans will work with us toward those goals, rather than making this a partisan issue used for political gain."
Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), one of the two freshman GOPers tapped to be liaisons to the leadership, indicated he wouldn't vote yes, either.
"Unless I see a credible plan to reduce our debt, one that does not consist of tax increases, I will be voting against any increases in our nation's borrowing," Scott said in a statement. "The American people have had enough."
So expect few if any yes votes Tuesday night to extend the debt limit. And if negotiators cut a deal later this summer to avert a financial crisis, many lawmakers may find themselves in the dubious position of having voting against it before voting for it.