After Another Delay, What's Next For Debt Plan?

Last night, the House of Representatives postponed a vote on its debt ceiling bill.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, Im Mary Louise Kelly.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And Im Steve Inskeep.

Not for the first time in the debt ceiling debt, Americans are left asking: What now. Days before a deadline, Republicans expected last night to pass a plan to extend federal borrowing authority.

KELLY: But they couldnt round up the votes. After hours of delays, word came late last night that speaker John Boehner would postpone the vote he's been pushing for, for days.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook was at the Capitol through the bitter end last night and she's on the line now. Good morning, Andrea.'

ANDREA SEABROOK: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So tell us what exactly happened last night.

SEABROOK: Well, we were all watching the debate. In fact, most of the debate was done on the bill that would do what Republicans said they wanted to do, which was raise the debt ceiling by about $900 billion, cut spending by a little more than that, and put in place a structure for doing things like mull over in both chambers a balanced budget amendment.

We were all watching this debate. It had gotten down to close to the very end. Former speaker Nancy Pelosi was on the floor already, at the very end of debate, and the word spread through the press and through the places where the press sits that they were going to pull the bill from the floor. The Republicans had called the administrative staff at the House and said: Stop proceedings, go to the non-controversial bids that we have left.

And suddenly we're all sitting there watching them named post offices around the country.

KELLY: It sounds just surreal. And the basic issue is they just didn't think they have enough votes to pass it. Will House Republican leader, John Boehner, will he try again today?

SEABROOK: Well, what ensued, Mary Louise, who was practically a mob of press outside of the speaker's offices where we watched member after member on the short list of diehard conservatives - who said they would not vote for this bill - go in and out of the speaker's offices with the sort of dour looks on their face.

They would not speak to us. The speakers own aides came out from time to time, adamant that they would vote on the bill that night. They had been adamant all day that they had enough Republican votes. They had already yanked it from the floor when they said that they would vote on the bill that night.

I mean it's getting hard to trust anything that the aides are telling us right now. But John Boehner has taken the procedurals steps to be able to take up a new version today. It is still very unclear as to whether or not they will have the votes in a time for it to pass.

KELLY: It sounds as though things are shifting minute by minute. There is of course a separate bill that is working its way through the Senate, the Senate Democrats would like to see passed.

Is it clear to you, Andrea, is it clear to anybody whether we might actually see some sort of deal starting to shape up by the close of business today?

SEABROOK: Well, several members told me that the speaker's office is working to tweak the bill and get those few more votes. I'm told that those diehard conservatives were mainly angry that the bill increased money for student loan grants - that's part of it anyway.

It's a bill that's supposed to make big cuts in spending, but really that is emblematic of the problem here. John Boehner had taken the skeleton of the deal that he thought Democrats would pass, and then put all kinds of sweeteners on it for Republicans. And he just never got there. And when the two sides can't agree on minimal increases in things like student loan grants, it seems unlikely that ultimately there's going to be anything but the barest bones of a deal - if there even is one.

KELLY: In just a few seconds left. But if there is no deal, if Congress can't get a plan together, what options does President Obama have at this point to step into the morass and try to get something done?

SEABROOK: Well, everyone except President Obama say he has some options constitutionally for going ahead and saving this whole crisis; saving the country from the crisis. Though again, he hasn't said that he will take any actions unilaterally.

KELLY: Okay. Thank you, Andrea.

SEABROOK: My pleasure.

KELLY: Thats NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook.

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