Vote delayed as GOP seeks support

WASHINGTON (AP) — An intense endgame at hand, House Republican leaders struggled late into the night Thursday to quell a revolt by conservatives and pass legislation to avert a threatened government default and slice federal spending by nearly $1 trillion.

As time for a vote slid by, the White House poked fun at Republicans led by Speaker John Boehner, who has become President Barack Obama’s principal antagonist in a contentious era of divided government. And Senate Democrats pledged to scuttle Boehner’s bill — if it ever got to them — to force a final compromise.

After hours of routine debate, the GOP leadership abruptly sent word that further work would be put off on the bill to raise the nation’s debt limit by next Tuesday to allow the government to keep borrowing and pay its bills. Hours after that, one official said leaders were contemplating unspecified changes but offered no further details.

Boehner summoned a string of Republican critics of the bill to his office.

Asked what he and the speaker had talked about, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said, “I think that’s rather obvious. .. There’s negotiations going on.”

Based on public statements by lawmakers themselves, it appeared that five of some two dozen holdouts were from South Carolina. The state is also represented by Sen. Jim DeMint, who has solid ties to tea party groups and is a strong critic of compromising on the debt issue.

A few first-term conservatives slipped into a small chapel a few paces down the hall from the Capitol Rotunda as they contemplated one of the most consequential votes of their careers.

Asked if he was seeking divine inspiration, Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said that had already happened. “I was leaning no and now I am a no.”

Many more congregated in the office of the chief GOP vote counter, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, perhaps drawn to the 19 boxes of pizza that were rolled in. Boehner joined them but did not speak to reporters.

“Clock ticks towards August 2, House is naming post offices, while leaders twist arms for a pointless vote. No wonder people hate Washington,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer tweeted.

Earlier, Boehner had exuded optimism.

“Let’s pass this bill and end the crisis,” said the president’s principal Republican antagonist in a new and contentious era of divided government. “It raises the debt limit and cuts government spending by a larger amount.”

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the measure, and in debate on the House floor, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida savaged it as a “Republican plan for default.” She said the GOP hoped to “hold our economy hostage while forcing an ideological agenda” on the country.

Despite the sharp rhetoric, there were signs that gridlock might be giving way.

“Around here you’ve got to have deadlock before you have breakthrough,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. “We’re at that stage now.”

Wall Street suffered fresh losses as Congress struggled to break its long gridlock. The Dow Jones industrial average was down for a fifth straight session.

The Treasury Department moved ahead with plans to hold its regular weekly auction of three-month and six-month securities on Monday. Yet officials offered no information on what steps would be taken if Congress failed to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit by the following day.

Without signed legislation by Aug. 2, the Treasury will not have enough funds to pay all the nation’s bills. Administration officials have warned of potentially calamitous effects on the economy if that happens — a spike in interest rates, a plunge in stock markets and a tightening in the job market in a nation already struggling with unemployment over 9 percent.

White House press secretary Jay Carney outlined White House compromise terms: “significant deficit reduction, a mechanism by which Congress would take on the tough issues of tax reform and entitlement reform and a lifting of the debt ceiling beyond ... into 2013.”

The last point loomed as the biggest obstacle.

The House bill cuts spending by $917 billion over a decade, principally by holding down costs for hundreds of government programs ranging from the Park Service to the Agriculture Department and foreign aid.

It also provides an immediate debt limit increase of $900 billion, which is less than half of the total needed to meet Obama’s insistence that there be no replay of the current crisis in the heat of the 2012 election campaigns.

An additional $1.6 trillion in borrowing authority would be conditioned on passage of The endgame at hand, House Republicans struggled Thursday to pass legislation to prevent a looming government default while slicing nearly $1 trillion from federal spending. Senate Democrats pledged to scuttle the bill — if it got to them — in hopes of forcing a final compromise.

As afternoon debate headed toward evening, GOP leaders ordered an unexplained halt on the measure and Speaker John Boehner summoned a string of recalcitrant rank-and-file Republicans to his office.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the measure, and in debate on the House floor, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida savaged it as a “Republican plan for default.” She said the GOP hoped to “hold our economy hostage while forcing an ideological agenda” on the country.

Despite the sharp rhetoric, there were signs that gridlock might be giving way.

“Around here you’ve got to have deadlock before you have breakthrough,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. “We’re at that stage now.”

Wall Street suffered fresh losses as Congress struggled to break its long gridlock. The Dow Jones industrial average was down for a fifth straight session.

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