Lacking enough support to pass their debt-limit bill, House Republican leaders postponed a scheduled vote Thursday and were working feverishly behind closed doors to try to round up votes, though the delay further complicates matters as all sides struggle to beat an Aug. 2 deadline.
The leaders had brought the bill to the floor and the debate had been raging for more than two hours Thursday afternoon when Republicans abruptly halted the proceedings midstream and pivoted to other, non-controversial business.
Once that was exhausted, the chamber went into an hours-long recess as Speaker John A. Boehner and his leadership team tried to persuade reluctant lawmakers to back their bill.
“No votes tonight,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, told reporters at nearly 10:30 p.m.
The White House, which has been sparring with Republicans for months about the debt situation, was gleefully taking shots throughout the night
After some news outlets reported that Republicans were considering rewriting the bill to eliminate come college aid spending, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer took to his online Twitter account to blast the GOP.
“So, the way to win more GOP votes is to cut aid for college students? That won’t play well with the American people,” he tweeted.
Republicans had been rushing to pass the bill Thursday evening and send it to the Senate, hoping momentum would entice Senate Democrats to accept it. But those Democrats said they were prepared to table the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, was holding the chamber in session Thursday night to prepare for a vote.
Both sides are struggling to find agreement on a way to raise the government’s borrowing limit and cut spending ahead of Tuesday, which is when the Treasury Department says the debt ceiling will be reached.
House Republicans’ plan, written by Mr. Boehner, would cut future spending by $915 billion while instantly raising the government’s borrowing authority by $900 billion.
Senate Democrats are rewriting their plan after the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday that it raised the debt by $2.7 trillion, but only cut spending by $2.2 trillion. All sides have agreed to cut spending by more than they raise borrowing authority.
The Nevada Democrat is hoping that by blocking those other options, his plan will gain momentum. But Republican senators have objected to his plan, and some Democrats also have said they can’t support it.
In the House, Republican leaders were trying Thursday to win over party members who say they’ve already passed the cut, cap and balance bill, which included deeper spending cuts and also required Congress to send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.
Those rank-and-file Republican lawmakers questioned why the House was already giving up on cut, cap and balance while the Senate hasn’t been able to pass anything at all.
“Why are we compromising with ourselves?” Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, said to reporters as he emerged from an evening meeting in the speaker’s office. “The Senate has passed nothing, so I don’t see how the House can compromise with ourselves.”
He also voiced a sentiment among some Republicans that bumping into the $14.29 trillion debt limit would not be the catastrophe President Obama and others have warned.
“I don’t want to see this country default but if it did, when there’s money to pay our debt, money to pay our seniors, money to pay our obligations, then it’s clear if this country does default there is absolutely no question Tim Geithner is worse than Hank Paulson was as Treasury secretary,” he said.
Leaders’ arguments worked to sway some members.
Rep. Michael C. Burgess, Texas Republican, told reporters he switched from undecided to “yes” at 3 a.m. Thursday while sitting at his desk in the Rayburn House Office Building.
“I still feel uncomfortable about a lot of it,” he said. “But it’s the best path forward — it’s the only path forward. No one knows what will happen Aug. 2. It’s uncharted territory. [But] if we turn the narrative over to the White House, they’re not going to go out of their way to make House Republicans look good.”
Republicans have already won most of the key battles on principle: Neither side is talking about including tax increases, both chambers say every dollar in debt increases should be matched by spending cuts, and the mere act of attaching spending controls to a debt increase is unprecedented in 75 previous debt-limit votes.
The groundbreaking nature of the cuts had Democrats questioning “why now?”
“No other president has been stood up, shook down and held hostage,” said Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Illinois Democrat, during the truncated floor debate.
\Negotiations have broken down over how long the debt increase should last.
The Republican bill calls for an immediate $900 billion increase, coupled with the chance for another debt-authority increase depending on the results of a special committee that would propose future deficit reduction.
But Democrats’ legislation would raise the debt limit by well over $2 trillion, which would last into 2013. Democrats want to ensure they don’t have to rehash this conversation until after the 2012 elections.
Democrats matched their debt increase with hundreds of billions of dollars in discretionary-spending cuts, and also took credit for ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that buys them extra future debt room.
But Republicans said the more than $1 trillion in war-cost savings are “smoke and mirrors,” because war spending was going to go down anyway under current policies.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.