No Deal On Tuesday Leads To Day 16 Of Shutdown On Wednesday

With the threat of a government default looming, House leaders tried to take the upper hand in the standoff with a bill appealing to their most conservative members. They failed, resulting in chaos in the House and giving the initiative back to the Senate.

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The fate of a deal for the United States to pay its bills on time now hangs in the U.S. Senate. The Treasury warns that by tomorrow, it cannot guarantee the ability to meet the nation's financial obligations unless Congress raises the debt ceiling.

Last night, the Republican and Democratic Senate leaders said they were working on a deal to avoid that disaster, and also reopen the government. The prospect of default by the United States has already prompted a warning that the nation's credit rating could be downgraded. The Senate effort to avoid that came after House Republicans tried one more time to extract extra concessions for raising the debt ceiling, but could not agree among themselves.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: As he's done almost daily during the government shutdown, Chaplain Barry Black opened yesterday's Senate session by asking the almighty to set lawmakers straight.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE SESSION)

BARRY BLACK: Lord, point out to them the road they should follow as you give them the wisdom and courage to do their duty.

WELNA: And there were signs Congress would indeed finally act. Majority Leader Harry Reid reported that he and Republican leader Mitch McConnell had made progress.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR HARRY REID: There are productive negotiations going on with the Republican leader. I'm confident we'll be able to reach a comprehensive agreement this week in time to avert a catastrophic default on the nation's bills.

WELNA: Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner met for nearly two hours with his rambunctious Republican caucus. His aim was to persuade members to get behind a new plan of his own to reopen the government and keep the Treasury whole for a few more months. It was clear, though, that when Boehner emerged from that meeting, he had failed to make the sale.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go. There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do. But we're going to continue to work with our members on both sides of the aisle to try to make sure that there's no issue of default and to get our government reopened.

WELNA: In order to win over conservatives, Boehner had loaded up his proposal with other provisions that Democrats sharply oppose. Majority Leader Reid returned to the Senate floor to say he'd been blindsided by Boehner, and that the speaker's plan was, in Reid's words, nothing more than a blatant attack on bipartisanship.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

REID: I'm very disappointed with John Boehner, who had once again tried to preserve his role at the expense of the country.

WELNA: Boehner's proposal, Reid added, could not and would not pass the Senate. Arizona Republican John McCain was one of the few to come to Boehner's defense.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: To categorically reject what the House of Representatives and the speaker is doing - and I think he's pretty courageous in what he's doing - in my view, is not serving the American people.

WELNA: But the action had shifted back to the House. Bipartisan talks in the Senate screeched to a halt, while Boehner tweaked his plan to make it more attractive to conservatives, with less than a day and a half to go until Treasury's deadline. That had Delaware Senate Democrat Chris Coons extremely worried.

SENATOR CHRIS COONS: Do the math. We're in very dangerous territory. I think this is really reckless.

WELNA: After meeting at the White House with President Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned that she and her fellow Democrats had no intention of voting for Boehner's plan.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: If they go on the path they're on, they'll need 100 percent Republican votes.

WELNA: But many conservative House Republicans were balking, as well, at what Boehner proposed, including Florida freshman Ted Yoho.

REPRESENTATIVE TED YOHO: I can't support this bill, because there's no meat in it. I mean, it's not going anywhere.

WELNA: Still, House leaders announced the Rules Committee would be meeting late in the afternoon to prepare a floor vote later in the evening on Boehner's plan. Then Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas announced none of that would happen.

REPRESENTATIVE PETE SESSIONS: There will be no action, no votes, and the rules committee will not be in tonight.

WELNA: The Boehner plan was dead, and Fitch Ratings, meanwhile, announced it was considering downgrading the AAA rating for U.S. debt. Xavier Becerra, the number-three House Democrat, told CNN whatever happened next was all up to Speaker Boehner.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)

REPRESENTATIVE XAVIER BECERRA: Republicans are now playing with other peoples' money. If the speaker doesn't want to play with other peoples' money, he'll now put a bill up that will get a bipartisan vote, and pass quickly.

WELNA: That bill could be the bipartisan deal worked out in the Senate. But with the Senate's slow-moving procedures, even if Boehner were willing to take it up, there's little chance of it being enacted by tonight's midnight deadline.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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