Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 16, 2013

Debt-limit deadline nears

GREG JORDAN
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Time growing desperately short, House Republicans pushed for passage of legislation late Tuesday to prevent a threatened Treasury default, end a 15-day partial government shutdown and extricate divided government from its latest brush with a full political meltdown.

There was no immediate reaction from the White House to the measure, which was revised from a version unveiled only hours earlier that had been stocked with conservative priorities and had drawn swift condemnation from Democrats.

While the House readied for a possible Tuesday night vote, the immediate result was to impose a daylong freeze on Senate negotiations on a bipartisan compromise that had appeared ready to bear fruit.

As a day of secret meetings and frenzied maneuvering unfolded in all corners of the Capitol, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., stood on the Senate floor at midafternoon and declared, “We are 33 hours away from becoming a deadbeat nation, not paying its bills to its own people and other creditors.”

Officials said that under the revised bill prepared by House Republicans, the Treasury would be permitted to borrow normally until Feb. 7 and the government reopened with sufficient funds to carry it to Dec. 15.

Additionally, members of Congress, the president, vice president and thousands of aides would no longer be eligible to receive employer health care contributions from the government that employs them.

“The House will vote tonight to reopen the government and avoid default,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.

He said the legislation would “end Obamacare subsidies for elected officials and staff in Washington, D.C., and pressure Senate Democrats to accept more sensible” time frames for reopening the government and renewing Treasury’s borrowing authority.

Gone from the measure was a pair of provisions that had drawn objections, one a plan to delay a medical device tax created under the new health care law known as Obamacare. The other would have imposed tougher income verification standards on individuals and families seeking subsidies for care under the law.

Democrats had viewed both as concessions to Republicans, and deemed their inclusion as a violation of Obama’s vow not to pay a “ransom” to the GOP for passing essential funding and borrowing measures.

Even with the changes, it was unclear whether Boehner and the GOP leadership had the votes to pass their measure.

The day’s events prompted an outbreak of partisan rhetoric, mixed with urgent warnings that both the U.S. and global economies could suffer severe damage quickly unless Congress acted by Thursday.

Even something of an appeal for heavenly aid was thrown in, as Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida led House Republicans in a rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the beginning of a rank-and-file meeting called to discuss a way out of the impasse.

Speaking with reporters, Boehner said, “I have made clear for months and months that the idea of default is wrong and we shouldn’t get anywhere close to it.”

But the first measure the leadership produced evidently came up short on votes, and the White House trashed it as an attempt to “appease a small group of tea party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place. “

Democrats jumped on Boehner and the plan he produced.

In unusually personal remarks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Ohio Republican had “once again tried to preserve his role at the expense of the country.”

That was a reference to a rebellious rank and file in the House, who routinely seek to push Boehner and the rest of the leadership to the right. A group met Monday night with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who last summer played a public role in a campaign to demand defunding of Obamacare as the price for preventing a partial government shutdown.

The Democratic attacks were too much for some Republicans who have been among those most vocal in calling for a bipartisan solution to the impasse.

“It’s piling on and it’s not right,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said of the response from the Democrats. “To categorically reject what the House and the speaker are doing — and I think he’s pretty courageous in what he’s doing — in my view is not serving the American people.”

The House had been effectively sidelined in recent days as Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell engaged in intense negotiations to reopen the government and raise the debt limit.