House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, center, speaks to the media Oct. 15 while flanked by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., right, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., following a House Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — A House Republican effort to advance a plan to reopen government and avert an impending default collapsed late Tuesday when it became apparent that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, did not have the votes to pass it.
The lack of any concrete plan in either chamber, divisions within the GOP, and the complexity of Senate rules pose many complications towards finding a budget compromise that can pass by Oct. 17, the deadline by which the Treasury has said it will no longer be able to meet all of its financial obligations on time.
The burden to reach compromise again shifted to the Senate. Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the House failure reignited stalled Senate talks late Tuesday and that leaders “are optimistic that an agreement is within reach,” he said.
Fitch Ratings announced Tuesday that it has put the U.S. Treasury bonds on watch for a potential downgrade if the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling is not raised.
The decision to pull the proposal ended a furious day of negotiations among House Republicans eager to find an alternative to a competing proposal being crafted by the top party leaders in the Senate because it did not go far enough to rein in President Obama’s health care law.
The House effort, first announced Tuesday morning, put the brakes on the bipartisan Senate talks sparking a quick and angry response from Senate Democrats and the White House. By Tuesday evening, however, House GOP leaders said they would not vote on the bill as scheduled.
Heritage Action, an outside conservative activist group, announced opposition to the House proposal because it “will do nothing to stop Obamacare’s massive new entitlements from taking root.”
Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said the vote had been cancelled following a leadership meeting in Boehner’s office. “We are going to be prepared (Wednesday) to make some decisions,” he said.
The House was aiming for a package that included a short-term stopgap funding bill through Dec. 15, a suspension of the debt limit until Feb. 7, and the elimination of a subsidy that helps members of Congress, their staffs, and White House employees from buying insurance in the new healthcare system.
“We are very cognizant of the calendar,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “We want to find a solution that gets us moving forward and America back working again.”
Many House Republicans were dissatisfied with the contours of the emerging Senate plan because it did not go far enough to rein in President Obama’s health care law. The government shutdown, in its 15th day, began when House Republicans refused to advance a stopgap funding bill unless it included provisions to delay or defund the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
The Senate proposal that was under consideration would fund government through Jan. 15, suspend the debt ceiling until Feb. 7 and create the framework for formal budget negotiations to conclude by Dec. 15 with long-term recommendations for funding levels and deficit reduction. The Senate plan did not include any significant changes to the Obama health care law.
President Obama told WABC-TV of New York that “the House Republicans still believe that they can get concessions for doing their job ... we’ll see how that plays itself out.” Citing the Senate efforts, Obama said that “my expectation is it does get solved — but we don’t have a lot of time.”
House Republicans initially included on Tuesday a provision for a two-year delay of a 2.3% medical device tax, but removed it. They also initially only eliminated the federal subsidy for members of Congress, the president, vice president and Cabinet officials, but expanded it to include staff. But the tea party-inspired wing of the GOP complained the bill still did not go far enough to roll back the health care law, and the outside group Heritage Action urged members to vote against the bill.
House Democrats oppose it. “The bill that they are talking about is a bill to default,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., following a White House meeting Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday he felt “blindsided” by the House’s new effort, which he called a “blatant attack on bipartisanship” and made clear stands no chance of Senate passage.
Reid told Democrats at their weekly lunch meeting that Boehner’s decision prompted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to stand down in the Senate talks to give House Republicans room to maneuver.
“Apparently it’s all fallen apart,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., adding Democrats were “stunned by the reaction in the House,” and “at this point, there’s nothing that’s real. Apparently there is no agreement.”
The White House also criticized the House plan. “The president has said repeatedly that members of Congress don’t get to demand ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation’s bills,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said. “Unfortunately, the latest proposal from House Republicans does just that in a partisan attempt to appease a small group of Tea Party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place.”
The House plan would also remove the Treasury secretary’s ability to use “extraordinary measures” to extend the debt ceiling deadline, restricting the executive branch’s flexibility to shift money around to pay bills.
“We think that’s a good thing, because that puts Congress back in charge on the debt and on spending,” said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La. “We don’t want to give Treasury any wiggle room.”
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., said he remained skeptical that the deadline to extend the debt limit is Thursday. “I don’t know what deadline is Thursday,” he said, saying the date was “artificially created by the administration.”
He said, “This didn’t come down on tablets. It’s not statute. It’s not legislation.”
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., a centrist who has been vocal about the need to reopen government, said he would support the House plan. “It moves the ball forward,” he said.
“As long as it’s taken care of by Thursday,” said Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., another moderate. “That’s all that matters.”
Davis and Korte write for USA Today. Contributing: David Jackson