House Could Vote on Debt Limit Friday

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In a night of congressional drama, House Speaker John Boehner comes up short and delays consideration of his proposal to raise the federal borrowing cap

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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. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Standard & Poor's 500 Index both were down 0.5 percent, as of Friday morning.

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.

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Billy House & Susan Davis

Billy House is a staff writer (Congress) for National Journal. Susan Davis is a correspondent (Congress) for National Journal.

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