The lobbying for Rep. Tim Walberg’s debt-ceiling vote began early Thursday morning. The third time it happened, it was only 7:20 a.m. and he was naked.
Walberg, 60, would not disclose the name of the other congressman, who wanted to know: “Have you come on over?”
Walberg gave the same answer he had already given twice that morning. “Still undecided,” he said uncomfortably. “But let’s do this at some other time.”
On Capitol Hill, Thursday was a tough day for the undecided — and for the Republican leaders trying desperately to persuade them.
The House was supposed to vote on a GOP bill to resolve the debt ceiling, which had become a test of the party’s ability to unite in a crisis. Bosses spent hours nagging, debating, pep-talking and outright badgering a small band of legislators who were still on the fence.
They couldn’t close the deal and, at the end of a very long day, both sides had learned bitter lessons: Political newcomers learned what an old-fashioned Washington squeeze play felt like. Party leaders learned that old-fashioned doesn’t quite work as it used to.
“I need your vote. I want your vote,” Walberg recalled House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) telling him at one point during the day. “Why can’t I have your vote?”
Boehner’s bill proposed to raise the debt ceiling in two steps and to require a bipartisan commission to find $1.8 trillion in new cuts from federal spending. At first, many conservatives thought it hadn’t gone far enough, and they held out for a constitutional amendment that would mandate a balanced budget.
But as the week went on, many “nos” had begun to turn to “yes.”
Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.), a bespectacled obstetrician, sat alone at his office desk until 3 a.m. Thursday, then decided to back Boehner. Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), a former car dealer, mulled his decision over a glass of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. “Jack and I think about things now and then,” he said. He was a “yes.”
Thursday was closing day. GOP leaders wouldn’t say how many legislators they thought were up for grabs Thursday morning; Hill newspapers guessed there were several dozen.
Lobbying began in earnest at a 9 a.m. meeting of House Republicans.
“Today’s the day,” McCarthy told him. Minutes later, a pair of other legislators from Michigan sidled up to Huizenga to check again. “So. We any closer?”
The meeting itself revealed how much Boehner and other GOP leaders had managed to achieve already. A few days ago, Rep. Mike Kelly (Pa.), a car dealer and freshman legislator, had seemed dead-set against a compromise like this one.
Now, he was literally shouting for it. “Buckle your chin straps. Run out on the field. Let’s knock the [expletive] out of them!” Kelly, a former Notre Dame football player, told the group, a witness said.