House leaders decided to delay a vote late Thursday on legislation authored by House Speaker John Boehner to reduce the deficit and raise the nation’s debt ceiling, acknowledging that it still lacked the votes needed for passage.
The postponement, announced shortly after 10:30 p.m., means a vote could occur on Friday, but the fate of the bill was uncertain. Republican leaders spent hours furiously whipping the bill, but still apparently fell short of the 216 votes necessary for passage. House Democrats were expressing unity in opposition to the bill. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by more than 100 points at the open on Friday. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index and Nasdaq were also trading lower.
Along with announcing that a vote on Thursday would not occur, House Republicans announced the Rules Committee would convene to bestow a status on the bill that would allow it to be voted on the same day that any changes are made to it.
“The votes—obviously—they’re not there,” said Rules Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif. Of taking the measure back to the Rules Committee, he said, “This is not a step we take lightly.”
A GOP leadership aide sought to cast the delay as in the public’s interest: “When we took the majority we promised to end the practice of forcing substantial bills through the House in the dark of night, and we take that pledge seriously.”
But House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., moments before Republicans pulled the plug on a vote, said the day’s GOP turmoil as the August 2 debt-ceiling deadline nears gives the public something to be concerned about. He called it a “defective spectacle.” Said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a statement: “Hopefully, now the Republicans will come back to the table to negotiate a bipartisan, balanced agreement that is overwhelmingly supported by the American people.”
House Republicans and Senate Democrats are both set to convene in separate closed-door meetings on Friday at 10 a.m. to discuss the next options.
Boehner’s bill cuts spending by $915 billion over 10 years and increases the current $14.3 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.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has offered a counter proposal to reduce the deficit by $2.2 trillion over 10 years and provide for one increase in the debt ceiling to carry through the 2012 elections, which the White House favors. He has pledged the swift defeat in his chamber of Boehner’s bill if it is passed in the House.
Leaders in both parties offered little insight as to how they will compromise and get a bill to the White House that President Obama will sign by August 2, when the government is scheduled to begin defaulting on its debts.
On the House side, in the days leading up Thursday’s confusion, Boehner’s bill was cast as a measure of confidence in the speaker, who put the full weight of his speakership behind its passage.
But Thursday, the scene in the House grew tense, particularly after an anticipated 6 p.m. vote was postponed for hours as GOP leaders continued to fall short of the 216 votes necessary for passage.
Vote counts by National Journal and other media outlets showed that roughly two-dozen Republicans remained opposed despite tandem efforts by Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to whip lawmakers opposed to the plan.
Complicating Republican efforts were Democratic leaders, who worked hard to ensure that none of their members crossed the aisle to support a proposal Obama said he will veto.
For hours leading up to the eventual decision to scuttle the vote altogether, a cattle-call of GOP members streamed in and out of leadership offices. McCarthy’s office had dozens of pizzas delivered. Boehner made at least one trip from his second floor suite to McCarthy’s first floor suite to compare notes.
The lawmakers summoned included Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Bill Posey, R-Fla., Joe Walsh, R-Ill., Trent Franks, R-Ariz., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Tim Scott, R-S.C.
The effort failed to persuade some, such as Gohmert, who told reporters that the speaker was respectful but he was still a firm “no.”
As Scott was walking into Boehner's office, he told reporters he planned to go later to a chapel to pray over the matter and for leadership, and did so when he left Boehner's office, joining the other South Carolina GOP representatives. Later, after praying, Scott was back in a meeting, this time in McCarthy's office. When he stepped out for a few seconds, he answered whether he'd changed his position, and said “no.”
The South Carolina delegation proved particularly intractable. With both GOP Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham in opposition to the Boehner bill, the state’s five GOP House members were reluctant to oppose that position and appear to the left of the senators.
Others were persuaded. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, was leaning against the bill, but told reporters ahead of the vote that he would support the bill.
One of the visitors in the late afternoon to the office was Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who was chastised in front of the entire conference on Wednesday for efforts by him and RSC staff to defeat the Boehner plan. Exiting McCarthy’s office, a terse Jordan said it “was just a visit.”
The day that ended so anxiously had seemed to begin so confidently for House Republicans at an early Thursday meeting. “Let go out there and kick the ---- out of them!” shouted Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa, according to lawmakers. Kelly brought to the meeting a Notre Dame football sign reminiscent of the “Play Like a Champion” sign the college players there slap before hitting the gridiron.
A puzzled Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., later rhetorically asked reporters: “Knock the ---- out of who?” His question gathered more meaning as the day wore on and it became clear that House Republican leaders’ enemies on Thursday were their own members.
Even if the House passes the bill on Friday or later, the House victory will be short-lived. The Senate is expected to modify it to ensure greater protections to ensure the debt ceiling is raised again early next year. Neither the White House nor Democrats are willing to have the same debate in an election year, and the White House remains concerned that Boehner’s plan will not do enough to prevent the ongoing threat of a credit rating downgrade.
If the House hasn’t voted tomorrow, a Democratic aide said Reid will file cloture on his bill and try to ramp up pressure on the GOP to deal. If the House bill passes, they see leverage as somewhat different but procedure similar. The Senate will table Boehner’s bill then file cloture on his bill.
But House GOP leadership aides said any dramatic changes to the Boehner proposal would face an uphill battle in a second vote. The House will be in session over the weekend, waiting for the Senate to act.