No End to the Debt-Ceiling Stalemate

After two more votes on Saturday, Washington's impasse continues as the Senate becomes the center of action

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In a symbolic vote that underscored the ongoing deadlock on how to resolve the impasse before the Aug. 2 deadline, the House on Saturday defeated a Senate proposal to raise the debt ceiling. It was the latest act in an elaborate weekend of kabuki theater on Capitol Hill.

The House voted mostly along party lines, 246-173, to defeat a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that aims to reduce the deficit by $2.4 trillion over ten years and raises the debt ceiling by the same amount. House Republicans oppose the plan because they contend it contains budgetary gimmicks that don't save enough money and gives too much leeway to President Obama to raise the debt ceiling without sufficient deficit reduction measures. Immediately afterwards, Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi headed to the White House for a closed-door meeting the President Obama.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared before reporters at a mid-afternoon press conference to offer reassurances that the United States will not default on its debt for the first time in history. McConnell said he has spoken with both Obama and Vice President Biden this afternoon and have begun negotiation a deal. "I am confident and optimistic we're going to get an agreement," he said. Added Boehner: "Despite our differences, we're dealing with reasonable, responsible people who want this crisis to end as quickly as possible."

On a sweltering end-of-July afternoon, temperatures were equally hot on the House floor. Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) pointed an accusatory finger at House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.), who was managing the debate. "You're standing up in disgrace, Mr. Dreier," said Levin, as he accused House Republicans of encouraging the debt ceiling deadlock. "The action that we're about to take here today is going to help with the process," Dreier countered, arguing that it would encourage Reid to negotiate with McConnell. "Mr. Dreier that is pernicious nonsense," Levin replied.

The House vote was purely symbolic and followed on the heels of a Friday 59-41 Senate vote to table Boehner's competing two-step proposal to reduce the deficit and raise the debt ceiling. Democrats and the White House oppose the House plan because it does not guarantee the debt ceiling is raised through 2012 and includes what they say are unrealistic conditions for a second increase -- in particular the requirement that a balanced budget amendment be sent to the states before the second increase is approved. The support for the amendment does not exist in either chamber.

Boehner and McConnell appeared before reporters at a mid-afternoon press conference to offer reassurances that the United States will not default on its debt for the first time in history. McConnell said he has spoken with both Obama and Vice President Biden this afternoon and have begun negotiation a deal. "I am confident and optimistic we're going to get an agreement," he said. Added Boehner: "Despite our differences, we're dealing with reasonable, responsible people who want this crisis to end as quickly as possible."

Congress is working through the weekend but the action centers now in the Senate, where Reid is working to either find a workable compromise with McConnell, or appeal to enough Republican senators to give Democrats the 60 votes they need to move forward on Reid's plan. The former is more likely than the latter, after McConnell sent a letter to Reid announced that 43 GOP senators stand in opposition to his proposal. Four Republican senators did not sign it: Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Olympia Snowe (R-Me.), Susan Collins (R-Me.), and Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

The Senate remained in an angry stand-off as Republicans and Democrats couldn't even agree if a filibuster existed, which bill could pass, what the president is for or when the body should vote. Beyond all this near-comic procedural histrionics, there remained some faint hope that behind-the-scenes negotiations would yield a compromise.

A vote to move forward on the Reid bill is scheduled for 1:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Depending on the outcome of the cloture vote, Reid could use his proposal as the base language to negotiate further, but if it fails GOP aides said he could be forced to use the Boehner plan as the basis to move forward.

Presented by

Susan Davis & Major Garrett

Susan Davis is a correspondent (Congress) for National Journal. Major Garrett is a corrrespondent (Congress) for National Journal.

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