House Republicans say they are set, finally, to vote on Friday on Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling bill after embarrassing snafus.
Revisions were made overnight to deal with Republican conservatives' concerns with the measure, including the promise of a vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Democrats remained poised to knock down the measure and move on their alternative.
President Obama, making a hastily-arranged statement at the White House, urged both parties to come to agreement quickly to avoid a potentially catastrophic default or downgrade to the U.S. credit rating next Tuesday.
“There are plenty of ways out of this mess,” the president said. But he added ominously, “We are almost out of time.”
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After a closed-door meeting in the Capitol, Republican House members said the vote on Boehner's proposal is back on. “They made some changes and we’re going ahead. There are enough votes to pass it and we’ll send it over to the Senate,” said Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., as he and other members exited a closed-door morning meeting of House Republicans.
Buchanan’s comments were confirmed by other members, including some who remained opposed late Thursday night, forcing Boehner and his lieutenants to abruptly scrap their plans for a nighttime vote. The measure needs 216 votes to pass, and without Democratic help, defections of more than 24 votes on the bill could kill it.
The reworked provisions of the bill went to the House Rules Committee – a requirement before a floor vote – and plans were being made for a vote later Friday. Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., said he felt good about the bill’s moving forward, finally.
Boehner’s bill cuts spending by $915 billion over 10 years and increases the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by $900 billion in the short-term. The bill would allow for an additional $1.5 trillion increase in the debt ceiling early next year, contingent on Congress enacting further deficit reductions.
Lawmakers said Boehner’s two-step bill was reworked overnight to add as a condition for its second debt-ceiling increase that a Balanced Budget Amendment be sent to the states. But that would require the unlikely prospect of two-thirds of the members in both chambers voting to do that. Adding that requirement seems a symbolic move, nothing more. Reid has said he would table the House bill, and Obama also noted that Boehner's proposal is one the Senate’s majority Democrats “have already said they won’t vote for.”
Obama urged Congress to work on a plan that he could sign by Tuesday, the deadline by which Treasury has said the nation’s debt ceiling must be raised or the country’s risks defaulting on some of its bills. Reid said he will file cloture on Friday on his plan to raise the debt ceiling through the 2012 election and to cut spending by an estimated $2.2 trillion.
"I must take action on the Senate's compromise legislation," Reid said. An aide said Reid would move ahead regardless of when the House votes on Boehner's bill. As developments continued, House leaders issued an alert to members that its telephone circuits are reaching “near capacity,” following Obama’s call Friday morning for Americans to “keep the pressure on Washington” to arrive at a debt ceiling deal.
This article appears in the July 29, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.