House GOP Gets Even, Rejects Senate Bill

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The House and Senate are in session this weekend, ostensibly to seek a solution to the debt ceiling crisis. For the latest, host Guy Raz talks with NPR's Andrea Seabrook on Capitol Hill and NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House.

GUY RAZ, host: From NPR News, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

Options are running out on Capitol Hill, just days before the United States is set to run short of cash.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat Majority Leader): And so I urge my Republican friends to join me to move forward with the only compromise plan that's left - in fact, the only option left at all - to save this country from default.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican Minority Leader): Forty-three of us, as I indicated earlier, have now signed a letter to the majority leader pledging that we will not vote for your $2.4 trillion debt limit amendment.

RAZ: That's Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and before that, Majority Leader Harry Reid, on the Senate floor today. The Senate is set for a dramatic early morning vote Sunday on whether it can move ahead on the plan from the Democratic leader, Harry Reid. But first, the House had a let's-get-even moment this afternoon.

We'll go to NPR's Scott Horsley for reaction from the White House in a moment, but first to NPR's Andrea Seabrook on Capitol Hill.

Andrea, walk us through what happened in the House today.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Well Guy, you remember that yesterday, the House passed the bill that Republican Speaker John Boehner had worked with other Republicans to finally get through the House. The Senate then shot it down almost immediately - within two hours of the House passing it.

Well today, the House came up with a version of the Senate bill, the Senate leader Harry Reid's bill - that they think is Harry Reid's bill - and shot that down, in the House side. So there were 246 noes to 173 yeses on that. Eleven Democrats voted against it, with all of the Republicans.

And that shows how much the leaders will have to make up - the leaders in the Senate will have to make up if they can get something through the Senate late tonight, if that were to come back to the House. It's just sort of still a complete mess after a day of tit for tat, back and forth.

RAZ: If the House rejected the - Harry Reid's plan, then what - I mean, what next?

SEABROOK: Well, if the - the House rejected what they think is Harry Reid's plan. Harry Reid has a couple of procedural votes in the Senate to even move forward. He looks, at this point, as if he needs a bunch of Republicans - probably around seven of them - to go with him to get that bill through the Senate. It seems unlikely.

A whole bunch of Republicans - as you heard the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, in your intro, say, that he's got a bunch of people on paper saying they will not vote for Reid's plan. And the only hope right now, it seems, coming out this afternoon, is that the two Republican leaders in the House and the Senate got together, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, and McConnell had this to say after the vote in the House.

MCCONNELL: I've spoken both with the president and the vice president within the last hour. We are now fully engaged, the speaker and I, with the one person in America - out of 307 million people - who can sign a bill into law.

SEABROOK: So that's sort of the little string that's being hung in front of the press. Perhaps now the president, the vice president, the Republican leaders, the Democratic leaders can all get together and decide how they are going to move forward.

RAZ: Hmm. Scott Horsley at the White House, let's bring you in for a moment. What role is the administration playing at this point?

SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, as you heard Senator McConnell say there, they're actively engaged in talking with the Republicans both in the House and the Senate, whose help they're going to need to resolve this mess. Up until now, the GOP had been criticizing the president for not being actively involved enough.

Of course, last week, they were taking the opposite tack. You might remember House Speaker John Boehner walked away from talks with the president a little over a week ago, and said he was going to work only with congressional leaders. But in the end, they're going to need both the House and the Senate, and the White House, to resolve this mess. And that means they've got to find some common ground.

The president has said they're not that far apart. Remember, the big question here is whether they're going to raise the debt limit in one step or two - one step that would carry us all the way into 2013, or two steps, which means we'd be doing this all over again sometime early next year. Either way, we're likely to go through two rounds of deficit reduction.

And so one question is, what's going to be the motivation for that second round? Do you have to have the threat of default hanging over the country, or is there some other forcing mechanism that the two parties can agree to?

RAZ: Scott, we are really close to the deadline now. August 2nd, of course, is Tuesday. We have been told that this will be an economic catastrophe, by experts and by lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Give us a sense of what we can expect.

HORSLEY: Well, the short answer, Guy, is we don't know what to expect. I mean, last Sunday, Andrea and I were just where we are right now, and everyone wanted to have some agreement in place before the Asian markets opened. We didn't get an agreement, and the Asian markets basically yawned.

With each passing day, though, the folks on Wall Street have gotten a little more nervous. By Friday, the Dow had lost more than 500 points. Overall, the markets still think this is a lot of political posturing; that in the end, the grown-up genes will kick in. But that view gets a little shakier with each passing day.

RAZ: Andrea Seabrook, let's say that the revised Harry Reid plan does make it through the Senate. What will the House do with it?

SEABROOK: You know, Guy, I think this is where the next big roadblock could be. If the Harry Reid plan makes it through the Senate, or if - as they seem to be signaling - the leaders come up with some kind of deal, the problem will likely be on the House side. As we learned this weekend, it's very hard for even Speaker John Boehner to come up with a bill that he can pass through his own majority in the House.

And so it's expected that a final deal will have to pass with some bipartisan support in the House, and that means there will be incredible pressure on Speaker Boehner to not even bring it to the House floor. He's going to have to choose between bringing something to the floor that doesn't have a lot of support among Republicans, or letting this thing fall apart and see how it ends.

RAZ: That's NPR's Andrea Seabrook at the Capitol, and Scott Horsley at the White House. Thank you both.

SEABROOK: Pleasure.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

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