Senate Quickly Kills Boehner Debt Bill

John Boehner

Despite a day of frenzied legislative maneuvering, the two parties made no visible progress in finding common ground. And on Saturday morning, President Obama made yet another public plea for some kind of compromise in his weekly video address, demanding that Washington get the country’s “fiscal house in order,” as much of the nation watched the clock tick toward a deadline of midnight Tuesday.

Demonstrating the deep partisan divide coloring the budget fight, the House voted 218 to 210 to approve the plan endorsed by Speaker John A. Boehner to increase the federal debt ceiling in two stages. No Democrats supported the measure; 22 Republicans opposed it. The White House condemned it as a “political exercise.”

“To the American people, I would say we tried our level best,” Mr. Boehner said as he concluded a debate that had been abruptly halted Thursday evening when he fell short of the votes for victory. “We tried to do our best for our country, but some people still say no.”

The House vote was the first act of what loomed as a weekend of tense legislative gamesmanship on Capitol Hill.  With Congressional leaders still unable to reach agreement, anxious lawmakers, aides and administration officials seemed to hold their breath, hoping that some compromise could mesh the competing proposals and rise above the increasingly confrontational tactics in Washington.

Aides and lawmakers said back-channel talks across the aisle were not making much progress in the Senate, but they hoped the pace would pick up after the Senate rejection of the House proposal.

That did not take long. Two hours after the House approved its plan, it was convincingly tabled in the Senate by a vote of 59 to 41, and Democrats took steps to move ahead with their proposal.

In an effort to attract some Republican support for his plan, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, made a number of changes in his bill. But the Congressional Budget Office found that the overall impact on the deficit was about the same as with his original bill: savings of $2.2 trillion over 10 years.

House Republicans, stung by their inability on Thursday to secure enough votes from conservatives for their own plan to raise the debt ceiling, reconfigured their proposal to win over the holdouts.

The revised plan would raise the debt ceiling for about six months in exchange for $1 trillion in spending cuts. A second installment of $1.6 trillion — expected to be needed in about six months — would hinge on Congressional approval of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, a provision added Friday to lure conservatives.

But the revisions only made the measure less acceptable to Senate Democrats, who had made it clear that they would reject the bill as soon as it reached them. “This is the most outrageous suggestion I have heard,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, the assistant Democratic leader.

Though Mr. Boehner and his allies had secured the votes, the margin of victory was narrow. Lawmakers, aware that the fight was probably not over, did not celebrate with the usual applause, whooping and hollering that erupts when a hard-fought bill goes over the top.

Indeed, an eerie silence settled over the House chamber. Republicans had won, but were in no mood to cheer the prospect of a $2.5 trillion increase in the federal debt limit, a possible fight with the Senate or a default.

In his address on Saturday, Mr. Obama chided House Republicans for spending “precious days trying to pass a plan that a majority of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate had already said they wouldn’t vote for.”

Mr. Obama said any solution must be bipartisan, having “the support of both parties that were sent here to represent the American people, not just one faction of one party.”

In the Republican video response, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said that “Republicans have tried to work with Democrats,” to raise the debt ceiling, “but we need them to work with us.”

In an effort to send a message, House Republicans plan to allow a symbolic vote Saturday on Mr. Reid’s plan to show that it cannot clear the House.

Jackie Calmes contributed reporting from Washington and Elizabeth A. Harris contributed from New York .

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