House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told fellow Republicans Thursday morning that he does not yet have the votes to assure passage of his two-step plan to raise the debt ceiling .

However, during a closed-door GOP meeting with his caucus, Boehner said he was confident that momentum for the plan is growing and that the measure will pass when it is put to a vote Thursday evening.

Republicans are scrambling, trying to ensure passage of the Boehner’s proposal, which would cut about $917 billion from the deficit now in exchange for a short-term hike in the nation’s borrowing limit. It would allow the ceiling to rise before an Aug. 2 deadline, when the country will default on its debt obligations without an increase in the limit.

But it will require Congress to adopt dramatic additional spending cuts before the ceiling could be raised again sometime next year. Democrats and President Obama are opposed and insist that Congress must remove uncertainty from the economy by raising the debt ceiling through the 2012 election.

At a closed-door GOP meeting in the basement of the Capitol, Boehner said momentum was with the proposal but acknowledged he does not yet have the 217 votes he needs, said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.)

“He said, we don’t have the votes, but we’re getting there,” King said.

Emerging from the closed-door meeting, members said Boehner and other party leaders were more low-key Thursday than on Wednesday, when the speaker had exhorted the group to get their “ass in line.”

Instead, they opened the floor quickly for comments from rank-and-file members, and several who had been hesitant to back the plan stood to say they now support it.

Those members included freshmen Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), a former football player at Notre Dame, who handed out to colleagues blue-and-orange signs with the school’s football slogan, “Play Like a Champion Today.”

“Put on your helmets. Buckle your chin straps. Run out on the field. Let’s knock the [expletive] out of them,” Kelly told the group, according to King.

Several other previously undecided members, including the freshman class president, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a leading conservative, said they were now “yes” votes.

Pence stood up at Thursday’s meeting and declared his support after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced that the House would vote Friday on the most recent balanced budget amendment proposal put forth by House Republicans as well as the balanced budget measure that passed the House in the late 1990s.

“I would say that inked the deal for me,” Pence said, adding that leaders had told him of the balanced budget plan Wednesday evening.

Still, some members remained opposed to the Boehner plan.

South Carolina Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R) and Trey Gowdy (R) said they were “no” votes because the proposal would not do enough to put the country’s fiscal house in order. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said his opposition remains firm.

Reps. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) all remained publicly undecided.

Boehner will need every Republican he can get to get the proposal through the House — and he can only lose about two dozen members before he will need Democratic votes. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday he will get none and predicted the bill will fail.

“I’m very proud of the enthusiasm in our caucus for something other than the Boehner bill,” Pelosi said. “The Boehner bill will not pass because it got Democratic votes. ... I’m not speaking for every member in my caucus, but I feel very confident that if they’re going to have 217 votes or whatever it is, they’re going to have to be Republican votes,” she said.

Even if Boehner’s measure passes Thursday, its fate is unclear. Senate leaders have said the plan cannot pass without amendment there, and some House Republicans said they fear that if they back Boehner’s bill today, they will be expected to also support it in a few days after changes have been made in the Senate.

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