The Senate voted 51 to 46 on Friday to kill the House-passed "cut, cap and balance" bill, clearing the way for Congress to consider another measure to raise the federal debt ceiling with negotiations at a critical point before the Aug. 2 deadline.
It remains to be seen if the alternative will be the so-called grand bargain being discussed between the White House and House Republicans, or a fall back, like the plan from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to give President Obama the power to raise the ceiling by $2.5 trillion in three steps.
“This is a necessary step and this step allows the process to go forward,” Reid said after the defeat of the House bill.
Reid, who attacked House Republicans for not staying in session this weekend, also announced that the Senate will also not be in session. Reid had previously planned to start floor action immediately on his proposal with McConnell, but he said circumstances have changed with the advance of the White House, Boehner talks.”
Reid said a bill raising the debt ceiling must originate in the House because it will include revenue. Senate leaders are not part of talks between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on a debt ceiling deal, he added.
“The path to avert default now runs first through the House of Representatives,” Reid said.
House Republicans had publicly touted the "cut, cap and balance" bill as their solution on how to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and GOP leaders hope its defeat will make it easier for rank-and-file Republicans to accept an alternative deal.
The bill would have required slashing spending by more than $100 billion in FY12 and eventually capping federal spending at about 20 percent of GDP. It required Congress to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to raise the debt ceiling.
Boehner, meanwhile, met with Republican members on Friday and said no agreement has been reached with the White House, several lawmakers said. He did not lay out details of any plan that is under discussion, but House Republicans say there are more signs a short-term debt extension is coming, to allow more time after the August 2 deadline to get a deal done.
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“I’m going to say this one more time, there was no agreement publicly, privately -- and frankly, not close to an agreement,” Boehner told a news conference.
He added, “It will be a hot weekend here in Washington D.C.,” referring to expected continued negotiations.
Rank-and-file GOP members said they were told the same thing in a closed-door meeting with Boehner – but that did not stop several from trying to get details of what, if anything, has been agreed to. Boehner declined to say.
“I think that one thing – we got a pretty good picture that things are all up in the air,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., one of several lawmakers to say Boehner insisted negotiators were not near a deal on a debt ceiling deal.
But several -- including Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., -- said Boehner also indicated that President Obama would now be open to a short-term extension bill of anywhere from two weeks to six weeks, as negotiations on an agreement continue.
This article appears in the July 22, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.