House GOP Debt Plan Faces Make-Or-Break Vote

Congress is still scrambling to vote on a deficit plan that could solve the current debt ceiling crisis. On Thursday, Speaker John Boehner is expected to present his plan for a vote in the House of Representatives. The Republican leader has called on his GOP brethren to get in line and support the proposal, while Senate Majority leader Harry Reid waits in the wings with a plan of his own.

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And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

With five days until a deadline, Congress is still some distance from raising the federal debt ceiling. House Speaker John Boehner has spent this week lining up plans to do that. Some members of his own party, though, think it doesn't include enough spending cuts.

The House votes today. But in the Senate, Democrats have already said they won't approve it, and they're lining up behind a plan of their own.

KELLY: NPR's David Welna reports on where things stand.

DAVID WELNA: As the countdown draws closer to the August 2nd deadline for raising the debt ceiling, the mood on Capitol Hill is close to panic. Senator Barbara Mikulski is a Maryland Democrat.

Senator BARBARA MIKULSKI (Democrat, Maryland): We aren't at an impasse. We're at the edge of a cliff. Unless Congress acts, we're going to go over it.

WELNA: And here's Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

Senator JOHNNY ISAKSON (Republican, Georgia): What we are doing is we dilly-dally around almost putting off a final decision, agreeing to not agree on anything, is we're making things worse.

WELNA: Here's the problem. The plan to raise the debt ceiling that Speaker Boehner is putting up for a vote today in House has no support whatsoever from Democrats, and quite a few Republicans have their doubts about it. And the White House opposes it.

But far from tweaking it to encourage bipartisan support, Boehner told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham yesterday he's sticking with his plan of initially raising the debt ceiling for only a matter of months.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; Speaker of the House): When you look at the approach that I've taken, Barack Obama hates it. Harry Reid hates it. Nancy Pelosi hates it. Why would Republicans want to be on the side of President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi? Beyond me.

WELNA: That take it or leave it approach was on full display at a closed door meeting of House Republicans on Tuesday. A member of the leadership team sought to get the GOP troops in line, showing them this clip from the violent Boston mob film "The Town."

(Soundbite of movie, "The Town")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as character) I need your help. I can't tell you what it is. You can never ask me about it later and we're going to hurt some people.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as character) Which car are we going to take?

WELNA: Some prominent conservatives oppose Boehner's plan because they say its cost cutting is too timid. Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin spoke at a Washington breakfast yesterday.

Ms. JENNY BETH MARTIN (Tea Party Patriots): We haven't seen that he means that he has any intention of making real cuts right now.

WELNA: House GOP leaders had planned to hold today's vote on the Boehner plan yesterday, but they held that vote over to add more spending cuts, since the Congressional Budget Office found the original plan increased the debt limit by an amount greater than its spending cuts. That plan was revised so that the debt ceiling is raised $900 billion and the spending is cut by $15 billion beyond that.

Illinois freshman Republican Joe Walsh found the new figures...

Representative JOE WALSH (Republican, Illinois): Encouraging. And leadership certainly moving in the right direction. Good stuff. The more we can get, the better. I'm going to wrap my arms around it all right now and see what it looks like.

WELNA: Are you ready to vote for it?

Mr. WALSH: No. No.

WELNA: Nor are other conservative Republicans, though it's not clear how many. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain admonished them yesterday.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): If conservatives defeat the Boehner plan, it'll not only undermine our House majority, it'll go far to re-electing Mr. Obama and making the entitlement state that much harder to reform.

WELNA: Senate Republicans are pinning their hopes on Boehner's proposal. Here's South Dakota's John Thune yesterday on the Senate floor.

Senator JOHN THUNE (Republican, South Dakota): Tomorrow I am hopeful that the House of Representatives will pass the Boehner bill. And I'm hopeful that as soon as we receive it here in the United States Senate, we'll take it up, pass it, and send it to the president for his signature.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): Don't anyone ever think that we'll be left only with the Boehner plan.

WELNA: That's Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday throwing cold water on the plan proposed by the speaker.

Sen. REID: It is not a solution and it will not pass. Every Democratic senator will vote against it. I don't know how many more times we need to say that, but it's true.

WELNA: Reid has not brought up his own plan to raise the debt ceiling. It too is offset by spending cuts. But unlike Boehner's proposal, it would keep the government solvent beyond next year's elections.

New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer hopes it will be what resolves this crisis.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): Once the House plan is defeated and the Senate plan is the only option standing between us and default, we think Republicans will give this a long look and decide to go along.

WELNA: That is, if there's any time left for a long look.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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