Congress still battling on debt deals

2013-10-15 20:10
John Boehner

John Boehner (AFP)

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Washington - Republican leaders in the House of Representatives appeared Tuesday to have failed to win support from conservative members on a plan to reopen the US government and prevent a potentially catastrophic default on American debt.

The overture was also immediately rejected by the White House and Senate Democrats.

Republican officials initially had indicated the House was ready to vote later in the day on a plan that was separate but not vastly dissimilar from one apparently agreed upon by both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate on Monday.

That had moved the US closer to solving a bitter fight between Republicans and President Barack Obama's Democrats over government spending.

But House Speaker John Boehner backed away from outlining the expected Republican deal in a late-morning meeting with reporters, saying only that he and his caucus were working on a plan that insures "fairness to the American people under Obamacare", as the president's health care overhaul is known.

The rollout of Obamacare coincided with a partial shutdown of the US government on 1 October after House Republicans refused to accept a temporary funding measure to provide the money to run the government unless Obama agreed to defund or delay his signature programme.

Thursday deadline

House Republicans also refused to move on needed approval for raising the amount of money the Treasury can borrow to pay the nation's bills. The administration says the government will be out of money to pay debts by Thursday.

Both measures are normally done as routine legislation, but a hard-right tea party faction of Republicans in the House has seen both deadlines as a weapon to get their way on gutting Obamacare, designed to provide tens of millions of uninsured Americans with health coverage.

Even before Boehner pulled back, the White House quickly voice opposition to the Republican plan that had been leaked by officials in the House.

"The president has said repeatedly that members of Congress don't get to demand ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation's bills," said Amy Brundage, a White House spokesperson.

"Unfortunately, the latest proposal from House Republicans does just that in a partisan attempt to appease a small group of tea party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place."

House officials had told The Associated Press earlier on Tuesday that Boehner and other Republican leaders had outlined their own bill that also would - like the Senate plan - keep the government running into the New Year and raise the debt limit to 7 February.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was clear that Boehner had failed to win the backing of sufficient House Republicans to support the plan that had been floated earlier in the day.

'Can't and won't pass senate'

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, involved in negotiations with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, blasted the House plan as a blatant attack on bipartisanship.

"It can't pass the Senate and it won't pass the Senate," Reid said.

And on Wall Street, stocks were down slightly at midday, as early optimism over a quick deal faded.

Boehner said he's "trying to find a path forward" but that "there have been no decisions about exactly what we will do".

He told a news conference, "There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go." Republican leaders then went behind closed doors to massage the plan in hopes of a vote later on Tuesday.

With just two days left before the Treasury Department says it will run out of borrowing capacity, congressional aides predicted top Democrat Reid and minority boss McConnell could seal an agreement by midday, easing dual crises that have sapped confidence in the world's dominant economy and badly shaken support for Republicans.

Both House and Senate Republican leaders scheduled private meetings with their rank-and-file on Tuesday.

The partial government shutdown has furloughed 350 000 federal workers.

US economy hanging in the balance

And with the global economic standing of the US hanging in the balance, Republican poll numbers have plummeted and Americans growing weary of a shutdown entering its third week, Senate Republicans in particular were eager to end the partial government shutdown and avoid an even greater crisis if the government were to default later this month.

The bipartisan Senate plan is far from the assault on Obama's signature health care reform law that conservative tea-party Republicans originally demanded as a condition for a short-term funding bill to keep the government fully operational.

It also lacks the budget cuts demanded by Republicans in exchange for increasing the government's $16.7 trillion borrowing limit.

Any legislation backed by both Reid and McConnell was expected to sail through the Senate, though any individual senator could delay it.

It had been a different story in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where conservative backing remains a big obstacle.

Republican Representative Joe Barton had signalled that House conservative members were deeply sceptical.

He said on Monday the plan to end the crisis must have deep spending cuts to win his vote and that he thought Obama and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew had more flexibility than they had said publicly.

"No deal is better than a bad deal," Barton said.

Asked whether the emerging package contained any victories for Republicans, Representative James Lankford, a member of the House Republican leadership, said, "Not that I've seen so far, no."

In addition to approving legislation to fund the government until late this year and avert a possible debt crisis later this week or month, the potential deals would have set up broader budget negotiations between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate with one goal being to ease automatic spending cuts that began in March and could deepen in January, when about $20 billion in further cuts are set to slam the Defence Department.

Read more on:    us  |  us shutdown  |  politics

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