But with GOP leaders unable to offer assurances that the needed support would materialize, Senate Democrats laid plans to proceed with their own debt-ceiling plan in hopes of pushing a measure through Congress by Tuesday, when the U.S. Treasury says it could begin running short of cash to pay the nation’s bills.
The late-night drama developed after debate on Boehner’s debt-limit bill had concluded and lawmakers were minutes away from what was expected to be a cliffhanger vote. Suddenly, action on the House floor shifted to a series of non-controversial measures, leaving befuddled lawmakers debating whether to rename a post office in Hawaii.
Outside the House chamber, Boehner summoned members of the holdout GOP South Carolina delegation to his second-floor office just off the Capitol Rotunda. But he appeared to make little headway and, within minutes, freshman Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Jeff Duncan left the meeting, saying they were heading to a nearby chapel to pray for their leaders.
Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) later joined them, and the trio, stalwart conservatives who have steadfastly opposed efforts to grant the Treasury additional borrowing authority, told reporters that Boehner’s pitch had not been persuasive.
“Divine inspiration already happened,” said Scott, a liaison to party leadership for the Republican freshman class in the House. “I’m a no.”
A short while later, the South Carolinians gathered with other undecided Republicans in the first-floor offices of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a usual hangout for many of the 87 freshmen. There, Boehner, McCarthy and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pleaded with their fellow Republicans for support.
Aides said that some holdouts objected to an item in the bill related to the Pell grant college loan program, complaining that it amounted to a $17 billion spending increase. Some members also wanted to see stronger language calling for a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget, aides said.
Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats had been waiting to put the Boehner bill to a quick death in a late-night vote of their own. But with House Republicans locked in yet another closed-door meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor that Boehner and his allies appeared to be “having trouble passing their bill” and warned that Congress faced the prospect of yet another wasted day.
The chaos in the House left Washington no closer to a resolution over the debt limit just days before the Aug. 2 deadline. The national debt hit the current $14.3 trillion limit in mid-May. Unless Congress acts, the government will be in danger of defaulting on its obligations as early as Tuesday.