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Senate votes down Boehner debt limit plan

  |   July 29, 2011 at 8:32 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Friday rejected a House-passed bill by Speaker John Boehner to increase the federal debt limit by $900 billion.

After the Senate voted 59-41 to table the measure, passed earlier in the day on a 218-210 vote in the House, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would not negotiate with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on a Senate bill Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.Dak., said. Appearing on MSNBC, Conrad said McConnell offered to negotiate with President Barack Obama, but not with Reid.

Before the House vote, Boehner, R-Ohio, said his bill, which included a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution at the insistence of Tea Party leaders, was the only way to "end this crisis now," The New York Times reported.

"All they would do was criticize what I put out there. I stuck my neck out a mile to get an agreement with the president of the United States. I stuck my neck out a mile. I put revenues on the table. A lot of people in this town can never say yes," Boehner said. "To the American people, I would say: We tried our level best. We have tried to do our best for our country, but some people still say no."

Twenty Republicans voted against the measure.

Following the vote, the White House issued a statement once again calling for Republicans and Democrats to "find common ground on a plan that can get support from both parties in the House."

"The bill passed today in the House with exclusively Republican votes would have us face another debt ceiling crisis in just a few months by demanding the Constitution be amended or America defaults," the statement said. "This bill has been declared dead on arrival in the Senate. Now that yet another political exercise is behind us, with time dwindling, leaders need to start working together immediately to reach a compromise that avoids default and lays the basis for balanced deficit reduction."

The White House said a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "is a basis for that compromise."

"It not only achieves more deficit reduction than the bill passed in the House today and puts a process in place to achieve even more savings, it also removes the uncertainty surrounding the risk of default."

"We face a self-inflicted crisis and the majority's solution is no solution at all," Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said before the vote.

The Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist's anti-tax group, gave Boehner's bill some support before the vote.

A vote had been expected Wednesday, and then again Thursday, but Republican leaders in the House did not bring it to the floor, instead spending Thursday evening trying to bring more of their representatives on board. That gave the House another option.

Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., introduced a deficit reduction plan late Thursday that is similar to the one Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., put forward in the upper house.

President Barack Obama, warning "We are almost out of time," called on congressional leaders Friday to reach agreement to resolve the crisis.

"A lot of crises we can't predict or avoid. … This isn't one of those crises," Obama said in a 6-minute speech in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, warning again the deadline is Tuesday for avoiding default on some obligations and losing the U.S. triple-A credit rating.

Calls to House members' offices dramatically in the morning after the president urged listeners to get in touch with their representatives and demand action, The Hill said.

Obama said doing nothing actually would result in "a tax increase on everyone" because if the U.S. credit rating takes a hit, interest rates will go up on everything from car and business loans to mortgages and credit cards.

He said both Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have come up with acceptable solutions that just need minor tweaks to win approval.

Reid said he is ready to move forward.

"No matter how long Republicans delay, the deadline will not move. We have hours -- I repeat, hours -- to act," Reid said.

"That is why, by the end of the day today, I must take action on the Senate's compromise legislation. ... This is likely our last chance to save this nation from default."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., have urged members of their party to come to their senses.

Obama urged Democrats and Republicans to find "common ground … that can get support from both parties in the House."

The president said he's even willing to accept some sort of "enforcement mechanism" to keep spending under control as debate over a more comprehensive reform package continues in coming months.

"We are almost out of time," Obama warned.

"The time for compromise is now."

Two GOP House members from South Carolina -- Jeff Duncan and Mick Mulvaney -- told reporters Thursday night they were going to a nearby chapel to pray over the matter and for their leadership.

The House impasse appeared to hand the initiative to Reid pushing an alternative version of the debt bill, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Lawmakers who had said they'd oppose the Boehner plan were summoned to the speaker's office where he tried to persuade them to change their minds, they said.

Most emerged saying they were still "no" votes, the Journal reported.

"He's asking for my vote. I'm still where I was," said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. "The speaker was very respectful."

Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., said, "I'm still a no."

Boehner's plan would immediately raise the debt ceiling $900 billion, accompanied by $917 billion in spending cuts. A special lawmaker committee would then recommend further cuts of $1.8 trillion in the next decade. If the cuts are adopted, the debt ceiling could go up another $1.6 trillion.

Reid wants to raise the debt ceiling at least $2.4 trillion so it wouldn't have to be raised again until after next year's election. It would also cut spending $2.2 trillion over 10 years.

Like Boehner's plan, Reid's calls for a lawmaker committee to find ways of reaching his deficit-reduction goal.

Senate leaders say Boehner's bill would be dead on arrival in the Senate even if it did pass the House. They planned to hold an initial vote Saturday on Reid's plan.

But Reid's plan faced a challenge of winning the 60 votes needed to shut down a possible filibuster, some officials said.

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