High Drama Dominates Debt Ceiling Talks

After several days of arm-twisting, the House on Friday approved a two-stage plan to raise the federal debt ceiling and make sharp cuts in federal spending. But the proposal was almost immediately rejected by the Senate, where Democrats introduced their own debt ceiling plan. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

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SCOTT SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. And here's where the debt ceiling debate limit stands. The House of Representatives approved a two-stage plan yesterday to raise the federal debt ceiling and make sharp cuts in federal spending but the proposal was almost immediately rejected by the U.S. Senate.

SIMON: The Democrats introduced their own debt ceiling plan and the House scheduled a symbolic vote this afternoon to reject that. Meanwhile, the Treasury says it will not have enough money to pay all of its bills if the debt ceiling isn't lifted by Tuesday. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: It was a day of legislative maneuvering on both sides of Capitol, as Congress moved incrementally toward resolving the debt limit stalemate. The first step was in the House. There, GOP leaders, after having to pull their debt ceiling bill from the floor Thursday when it became clear it lacked enough votes, they did more appealing to the party's most conservative members.

Added to the bill was a provision calling for passage of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. Leaders sold the idea at closed-door meeting yesterday morning, winning over previous no-votes, like Texas Republican Louie Gohmert.

Representative LOUIE GOHMERT: I've said from the beginning that in order to vote to raise the debt ceiling, there will have to be something that is such a game changer, such provision that allows us to stop taking this country toward the dustbin of history. And I believe a balance budget amendment, if it has a cap on spending, could do that.

NAYLOR: During debate on the measure later in the day, House Speaker John Boehner, who's had to deal with uncompromising tea party members and with the White House indicated it's been a difficult few weeks.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER: I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get in agreement with the president of the United States. I stuck my neck out a mile. And I put revenues on the table in order to try to come to an agreement to avert us being where we are. Well, a lot of people in this town can never say yes.

NAYLOR: The House approved Boehner's proposal 218 to 210. Twenty-two Republicans couldn't say yes and not a single Democrat in the House voted for the measure. It was dismissed by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Representative NANCY PELOSI: This bill is going nowhere. It is a total waste of time. And every day that we spend on these wastes of time that are not going anyway is another day we are not talking about the highest priority of the American people, which is job creation, job creation, job creation.

NAYLOR: And Boehner's victory was short-lived. Some two hours later the Senate rejected the plan, as Democratic leaders had vowed all along they would. Majority Leader Harry Reid sounded exasperated about the House attaching the balanced budget amendment to the debt ceiling.

Senator HARRY REID: The extremism of these people; they're not satisfied with a vote on it, they want a guarantee that it pass before they'll allow an extension of the debt limit. I mean, how bizarre can anyone be?

NAYLOR: Reid introduced his own bill. It includes part of an earlier proposal authored by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to allow Congress to vote to disapprove debt limit increases sought by the president. It would cut spending by some $2.4 trillion over 10 years, and it contains a provision calling for a Congressional committee to come up with more savings. Reid calls it the last train leaving the station. But it's not clear yet how many Republicans are ready to jump aboard. The Senate is likely to be in session virtually around the clock this weekend, as Republicans prolong debate on the measure and Democrats try to win the backing of enough GOP senators to make another incremental step forward. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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