GOP scrubs bill for $65 billion in new cuts

House girds for a showdown with Senate over debt-limit rise

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After finding $65 billion in new spending cuts Wednesday, House Republican leaders braced for a floor showdown Thursday on their bill to raise the government’s borrowing limit by $900 billion while cutting even more than that from future spending.

And an intense closed-door meeting early Wednesday also seemed to win back many wavering Republicans, as party leaders warned of dire consequences should their bill fail, and also promised repeated votes on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

“The leader and speaker assured us that we will, and that we will have an opportunity to make that vote on the floor of the House. So I think you’re seeing a shift toward a more positive look at the bill, and I know probably 20 people who have gone from undecided or lean ‘yes’ to an actual ‘yes’ prior to the past couple of days, including me,’” said Rep. Tom Reed, a freshman Republican from New York.

GOP leaders hurriedly had rewritten their bill after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said earlier this week that their first version had only cut $850 billion — leaving them in violation of House Speaker John A. Boehner’s pledge to match a debt increase dollar-for-dollar with more spending reductions.

The moves came even as financial markets signaled they remain worried over the possibility of stalemate into next week, when the Treasury Department says the government would bump into its $14.29 trillion debt limit. If the limit isn’t raised by Tuesday, the government has said it would have to suspend payments on some obligations.

Mr. Boehner is counting on House passage Thursday to give his bill momentum for the next step: a fight in the Senate, where Democrats are in control.

But the White House has threatened a veto and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the GOP measure stands no chance in the upper chamber.

“Every Democratic senator will vote against it,” said the Nevada Democrat, and his pledge was backed up later in the day when all of the chamber’s Democrats signed a letter laying out their opposition.

Mr. Reid, though, was rewriting his own alternative on Thursday after the CBO said it, too, had a gap between projected savings and the requested debt increase. The CBO said the Senate bill reduced future projected spending by $2.2 trillion, but included a debt increase of $2.7 trillion, leaving a half-trillion-dollar gap, or 10 times the GOP’s shortfall.

Mr. Reid said such rewrites are common after the CBO scores a bill, and that his measure can be fixed with some “tweaking.”

Republicans are seeking to win deep spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit, and Democrats have as of late joined them in that mission. But the two sides disagree over how much new debt authority should be granted.

Democrats want a $2.7 trillion increase, which would last past the 2012 election and ensure lawmakers don’t have to face the issue again before they face voters.

The GOP, though, wants a two-step process: an initial increase that would last into next year, and then another increase if a proposed special committee came up with more spending cuts or tax increases.

All sides have agreed to the GOP’s demand that a debt increase be matched by spending cuts.

With stalemate a possibility, House Democrats cheered one of their leaders’ suggestions that Mr. Obama prepare an executive order to raise the limit unilaterally, citing the 14th Amendment’s clause that says U.S. debt shall not be questioned.

“I believe that something like this will bring calm to the American people and will bring needed stability to our financial markets,” said Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a leader in the House Democratic Caucus.

But the White House again ruled that option out.

Meanwhile, outside lobbying intensified.

Dozens of Chamber of Commerce affiliates and other business groups signed a letter Wednesday backing the House bill, while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday sent a letter opposing the House bill and urging tax increases and defense spending cuts instead of other spending cuts.

“It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly,” the bishops stated in their letter.

No similar letter went out to senators, even though their bill cuts more deeply than the House version.

A spokeswoman for the bishops didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Inside the Capitol, Mr. Boehner and his fellow Republican leaders sought to rebuild support after the CBO on Tuesday said the bill only cut $850 billion, which was $50 billion short of the $900 billion debt authority increase the GOP called for.

On Wednesday, Republicans found new cuts totaling $65 billion.

Mr. Boehner also seemed to win support after it was revealed that staffers for the conservative caucus in the House were targeting fellow Republicans in their attacks over the debt debate.

That anger boiled over in Wednesday’s closed-door meeting, and Rep. Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican who runs the conservative Republican Study Committee, had to apologize for his staffers’ behavior.

Several aides said they thought the furor over the opponents’ tactics, coupled with the pledges Republican leaders were making to hold votes on the balanced-budget amendment, may have earned Mr. Boehner enough support to pass his bill.

That’s a major reversal from just a day earlier, when Republicans were fleeing from Mr. Boehner’s bill, arguing it didn’t cut deeply enough and surrendered ground from the “cut, cap and balance” bill the House passed just last week, which also insisted on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution be passed in both chambers.

The new version only requires that the Senate hold a vote.

Kara Rowland contributed to this article.

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