House GOP leaders had won narrow approval of a plan to raise the federal debt limit Friday after revising the measure to appeal to rebellious conservatives, but it was quickly shot down in the Senate, where Democrats began pushing their own plan to avert a national default.
Heading into the final weekend before the Treasury expects to begin running short of cash to pay the nation’s bills, Reid introduced a new version of his plan to grant the government additional borrowing authority into 2013, setting up the crucial Sunday morning vote in the Senate.
Democrats conceded that they still lack the votes to repel a GOP filibuster. Reid beseeched his Republican counterpart, McConnell, to join him in reworking the measure so the Senate could pass it and send it back to the House before slumping financial markets open Monday morning.
But in a phone call Friday evening, McConnell told Reid he wanted the White House at the table and expressed frustration that President Obama had rejected an emerging compromise between the two Senate leaders last weekend. Aides said McConnell expected to speak with administration officials Friday night and tamped down talk of an impasse. But Senate Democratic leaders reacted with outrage, accusing McConnell of blocking a deal.
“Unless there is a compromise or they accept my bill, we’re headed for economic disaster,” Reid said.
The late-night jousting in the Senate followed a vote on House Speaker John A. Boehner’s debt-limit measure, which would extend the Treasury’s borrowing power until early next year and force another economy-rattling fistfight within a few months.
Drafted largely by aides to Reid and McConnell last weekend, the measure was originally designed to appeal to the more centrist Senate. But Boehner (R-Ohio) could not rally enough support from his tea-party-influenced caucus and had to rewrite it at the 11th hour to add a provision that would compel Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.
The change swayed a handful of holdouts, and the measure passed 218 to 210, with every Democrat and more than 20 Republicans voting no. But the episode was a loss of face for the speaker and his leadership team, demonstrating a lack of clout within their own conference. Even their allies in the Senate were stunned.
“Yes, people can be critical of what we’ve done, but where are the other ideas?” Boehner said on the House floor. “At this point in time, the House is going to act and we’re going to act together.”