The Washington Post

Holdouts on debt bill force Republican leaders to delay vote

Updated 11:10 p.m.

Five hours after postponing a vote on Speaker John A. Boehner’s debt-ceiling plan and then working to persuade holdout Republicans to support the bill, House GOP leaders threw in the towel, saying that there would be no vote on the proposal on Thursday night.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made the announcement to reporters at the Capitol shortly before 10:30 p.m., and it appeared to surprise even to some GOP leaders. Ten minutes before McCarthy’s announcement, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who is also a member of the House leadership, said that he continued to believe that there would be a vote Thursday night.

“I think that at the end of the day — excuse me, at the end of the evening — we’ll have the votes to send a responsible measure over to the Senate,” Walden told reporters as he walked past McCarthy’s office. “I fully expect we’ll vote tonight.”

Asked whether there were plans for the Rules Committee to meet again Thursday night to rework the bill — Walden responded: “I think so.”

Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), a conservative Republican who had announced his support for the bill at a caucus meeting Thursday morning, told reporters outside Boehner’s office that the outlines of the speaker’s proposal are “going to be a subject of discussion” going forward.

“I don’t know if there’ll be any changes to the current plan,” Pence said. “What’s going on now is a process of dialogue among legislators who are listening to one another and seeing how it’s going to be possible for us to move forward within a democratic process.”

Asked whether a vote might be held Friday, Pence declined to say.

“I’ll refer you to the whip’s office on that, but we’re not there yet,” he said.

McCarthy’s announcement came after hours of wrangling by House Republican leaders with rank-and-file members in a closed-door meeting in the whip’s office on the first floor of the Capitol.

The leaders were joined in the office suite by 18 to 20 lawmakers, including some thought to be persuadable, and Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

As the high-stakes session wore on inside McCarthy’s offices, congressmen negotiated and wolfed down Al’s Pizza, while outside, more than three dozen reporters lingered in the hallway waiting for news.

“If you had a choice of voting for a bad bill — the Boehner bill — and a really bad bill — the Reid bill — which one would you vote for?” Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) told reporters outside McCarthy’s office. That may have sounded like a “yes” vote for the Boehner plan, but Bartlett declined to say how he planned to vote.

The three leaders — Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy — left the office shortly before 8 p.m. and did not answer reporters’ questions.

Those still talking in the office included four Republicans from South Carolina — Reps. Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney and Tim Scott — as well as Reps. Tom Price (Ga.), Dan Lungren (Calif.), Trent Franks (Ariz.) , Austin Scott (Ga.), Michael Burgess (Tex.) and Scott Garrett (N.J.)..

Burgess told reporters that he had already determined to vote for the Boehner plan. He had attended the meeting, he said, because he was “just trying to figure out what’s going on, the same as you guys.”

Asked whether he thought leaders had the votes for the Boehner plan, Burgess laughed.

“Apparently not, otherwise we’d be upstairs voting,” he said.

Across the hall, meanwhile, Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, waxed philosophical about the crisis facing the country as she left her office.

Slaughter said that the debt-ceiling theatrics had convinced her that Congress should not have the authority to make decisions on raising the federal borrowing limit.

“Frankly, I have pondered all this day, ‘Why does the United States of America go through this process?’” Slaughter said. “Nobody else in the world does; it makes no sense at all. And certainly it should never have been larded up, with the vote to limit” federal spending.

One truth that became apparent as the night stretched on: leadership had come face-to-face with the realities of governing in the new Washington, where trading earmarks for votes from holdout members was no longer an option, and letting the House work its will — the approach Boehner has taken since the outset of his speakership — has made it more difficult for leaders to impose theirs.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who had told reporters Tuesday that he could not support the Boehner plan, exited McCarthy’s office shortly before 9 p.m. and declined to say where he stood now on the bill.

A longtime crusader against earmarks, Flake said that the whip operation currently underway on the debt-ceiling vote was without the horse-trading that marks most congressional nail-biters — a change due to new rules adopted by the 112th Congress.

“It is the most refreshing thing in the world to see what’s going on in there,” Flake said. “This kind of negotiation a couple years ago would have cost about 20 billion dollars.”

“What does it cost now?” a reporter asked.

“Now, it’s a couple of pizzas and you’re there,” he joked. “Seriously, that has been the most refreshing part of this whole thing. Nobody’s kids who’re running for office were threatened or anything. Nothing. Nothing. It’s just a tough vote; these are big decisions.”

Flake’s sentiments were shared by Walden on Thursday evening.

The new deal-making process “makes it better,” Walden said. “Now we’re just talking about the real issue before us, and nobody’s getting bribed any which way. Unlike the past — and I was here when we were in the majority before and, you know, there was something there — this is really about the country. This is really about the policy before them and what’s the best course of action.”

Walden added, “There are some members of our conference that want to do more than they can get done right now, and that’s tough for them, and I respect that. But I think we have a good opportunity to move forward and then come back, because you always have another chance to move forward again.”

Members continued to file in and out of McCarthy’s office throughout the night. Pence was seen entering, as was freshman Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.).

Several members of House Republican leadership, meanwhile, were seen sprinting back and forth across the Capitol.

Read more on PostPolitics

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