As Deadline Looms, Debt Deal Eludes Congress
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Here we are, four days before a deadline in the debt ceiling. And last night the House of Representative again put off a vote to raise it.
House Speaker John Boehner crafted a bill that Democrats and the White House call unacceptable. Facing the pressure of passing it virtually alone, Republicans could not agree among themselves. Boehner does not yet have the votes.
Very little has happened, as expected, and we begin our coverage with NPR's Ari Shapiro.
ARI SHAPIRO: Yesterday afternoon behind closed doors, a couple of Democratic officials calmly gave reporters their prediction of how they expected the evening to play out. The House would pass Speaker John Boehner's plan to raise the debt ceiling. The Senate would kill that plan. Everyone would go to sleep. And this morning, with just a few days left to default, the officials said both sides could get to work on something that the president would sign to avert disaster.
Well, that's not what happened. When the clock ticked closer to the scheduled House vote last night, Speaker Boehner realized he did not have enough support from his party's right wing. He stalled while the House clerk brought a different bill to the floor.
Unidentified Woman: HR 789, a bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located...
SHAPIRO: While the post office occupied the House floor, the speaker's office became the scene of some heavy coercion and horse-trading on the bill to raise the debt ceiling. Republican freshmen went one by one to speak with the party leaders behind closed doors. One problem was Pell grants. Republicans said they were upset that the Boehner plan includes $17 billion over two years for college student loans.
From the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer tweeted: Clock ticks towards August 2nd. House is naming post offices, while leaders twist arms for a pointless vote. No wonder people hate Washington.
Pfeiffer called the vote on Boehner's plan pointless because of what awaits the bill on the other side of the Capitol, in the Senate. More than 50 senators oppose the bill, and the president has promised to veto it.
Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he won't tolerate a bill that would require another vote to raise the debt ceiling in six months.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): We must not be back here in six weeks or six months debating whether to allow our nation to default on its financial obligations for Republicans' right wing that seem to be controlling so much of what they're doing in the House.
SHAPIRO: But the Senate didn't get a shot at Boehner's bill yesterday. The House speaker called it a night around 10:30. The votes that were supposed to happen last night are expected today instead - one day closer to default.
In the view of House Republicans, Boehner's plan is the last life raft. Climb aboard, they warn, or puncture it and find out how much longer the country can tread water.
Kevin McCarthy is in charge of rounding up Republican votes.
Representative KEVIN McCARTHY (Republican, California): You have one in the White House that doesn't know how to lead except from the back. A man that knew that the debt crisis was coming even when he voted against it a number of years ago. He says he's changed his ways, but has never produced a plan.
SHAPIRO: President Obama has kept a low profile this week. Aides say he has been working the phones, and yesterday he had an off-the-record lunch with a handful of TV and wire service reporters. Last week, he rolled out the news conferences, town hall meetings, and speeches, but none of it did any good.
Political scientist Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution says after that, Mr. Obama could not have kept up the public pressure this week.
Mr. BILL GALSTON (Brookings Institution): He had shot every arrow in his quiver without achieving his intended result, and I think he had no choice but to back off and let the Congress work its will for a while.
SHAPIRO: The White House has deployed a fleet of surrogates instead. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took the lectern in the White House briefing room yesterday.
Secretary RAY LAHOOD (U.S. Department of Transportation): This is a time that I think most of us that have watched politics have never seen before.
SHAPIRO: LaHood was a Republican member of Congress for 14 years. He marveled that there are members today who don't believe in compromise.
Sec. LAHOOD: We need for people to come together, set aside their own egos, a certain part of their own agenda, for the American people. To makes sure we maintain the strongest economy in the world.
SHAPIRO: As last night's drama showed, it is no longer Ray LaHood's Congress.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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