Politics

October 16, 2013

House Republicans cancel vote on debt deal

The pressure is now on Senate leaders to end the government shutdown and avoid default.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders canceled votes Tuesday night on a proposal to reopen federal agencies and lift the debt ceiling, shifting the onus back onto the Senate to finalize a deal to avoid a default that could undermine the U.S. economy.

click image to enlarge

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, with House GOP leaders, speaks with reporters following a Republican strategy session, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. House Republican leaders canceled votes Tuesday night on a proposal to reopen federal agencies and lift the debt ceiling, shifting the onus back onto the Senate to finalize a deal to avoid a default that could undermine the U.S. economy and the country’s longterm credit.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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This Oct. 15, 2013, photo, shows a view of the U.S. Capitol building at dusk in Washington. Even if Congress reaches a last-minute or deadline-busting deal to avert a federal default and fully reopen the government, elected officials are likely to return to their grinding brand of brinkmanship, perhaps repeatedly. House-Senate talks are barely touching the underlying causes of debt-and-spending stalemates that pushed the country close to economic crises in 2011, last December and again this month.

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., resumed negotiations soon after House leaders scrapped plans to bring a revised bill to the floor amid disagreement within Republican ranks.

Senate Democratic leaders expressed optimism that a deal was close at hand, with votes likely on Wednesday. But the Senate will have to work fast to broker a deal able to pass both chambers before a Thursday deadline. And nerves were high after the stock market fell and one rating agency put the U.S. on a credit “watch.”

“We are making good progress,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the key Senate negotiators. “Things look a lot better than they did several hours ago.”

Tuesday’s stops and starts left lawmakers frustrated at times, however.

“This is terrible. Look at what the American people are being subjected to,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday afternoon.

McCain is among more than a dozen bipartisan senators in a group led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that had proposed their own compromise. The group also includes Sen. Angus King of Maine. Democratic leaders rejected a version of that plan last weekend, but the proposal provided a framework for Reid and McConnell’s negotiations.

Schumer declined to provide details of the emerging deal late Tuesday; however, an earlier proposal between Reid and McConnell would have funded government through Jan. 15 and extended the debt ceiling to early or mid-February. The Senate deal also would have required negotiations on long-term deficit reductions and given federal agencies additional flexibility to absorb across-the-board spending cuts known as “sequestration.”

Collins’ office did not return multiple calls and emails from the Portland Press Herald seeking comment on the developments and her group’s negotiations. Collins told reporters earlier in the afternoon that she still believed the Senate “needs to go first” and that her group’s plan “is the best way forward,” although she was pleased Reid and McConnell’s proposal adopted elements of their plan.

“I think the Senate needs to proceed,” she said. “I hope there will be a strong vote and maybe that would give some momentum for the House to act.”

The House’s inaction effectively left the Senate where it had been one day earlier. The Treasury Department has warned that, after Thursday, it will eventually exhaust its ability to juggle the nation’s finances to avoid a default in the coming days or weeks.

Underscoring the potential risks of the congressional stalemate, one of the major credit agencies, Fitch Ratings, put the U.S. on “negative watch” on Tuesday. The New York Stock Exchange also fell 133 points Tuesday in response to the ongoing political discord in Washington.

Fitch Ratings cited “political brinksmanship” and the increased risk of a federal default after Oct. 17 when the agency announced the warning.

“The Treasury may be unable to prioritize debt service, and it is unclear whether it even has the legal authority to do so,” Fitch wrote. “The U.S. risks being forced to incur widespread delays of payments to suppliers and employees, as well as social security payments to citizens – all of which would damage the perception of U.S. sovereign creditworthiness and the economy.”

Social Security is one of countless federal programs that could be affected if the government were forced to decide which bills to pay on time and which to delay. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned that timely payments for Social Security, Medicare, active-duty military personnel and veterans could be put “at risk” if U.S. obligations exceed the $30 billion in cash that he estimated would be on hand sometime after Oct. 17.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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House members and congressional staff, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., left, head of the Republican Conference, left, moving past Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., third from left, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, leave the Capitol at the end of the night after a planned vote in the House of Representatives collapsed, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, at the Capitol in 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.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., glances to media stands ready to board the elevator that serves the office of House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Washington. The partial government shutdown is in its third week and less than two days before the Treasury Department says it will be unable to borrow and will rely on a cash cushion to pay the country’s bills.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

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Rep. Tom Lathem, R-Iowa, walks past reporters on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Washington. The partial government shutdown is in its third week and less than two days before the Treasury Department says it will be unable to borrow and will rely on a cash cushion to pay the country’s bills.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster



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