Reid delays vote on debt plan - CNN

@CNNMoney July 30, 2011: 10:20 PM ET

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, temporarily stopped legislative consideration of his debt ceiling proposal late Saturday night, reversing an earlier decision to hold a key procedural vote on the measure by 1 a.m. ET Sunday.

Reid announced that the vote will now be held at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Reid said negotiations were still underway at the White House.

There are "many elements to be finalized" and still "a distance to go," Reid said. "We should give everyone as much room as possible to do their work."

Earlier. top congressional Democrats and Republicans disagreed over whether any progress was being made on a deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling and avoid a potentially catastrophic default.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, held a 4 p.m. ET afternoon press conference in which they both said a deal was close. Two hours later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, asserted the claims of his Republican counterparts were simply "not true."

The Republicans are holding "meaningless press conferences" and "refuse to negotiate in good faith," Reid said. "The process has not been moved forward during this day."

"I'm more optimistic than my friend the majority leader," McConnell replied. "I think we've got a chance of getting there."

McConnell spoke with Vice President Joe Biden several times Saturday, according to a senior administration official. Boehner talked to Obama Friday night, a GOP aide told CNN. Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, huddled behind closed doors with Obama at the White House.

One Democratic source cited concern among congressional Democrats that Obama could cut a deal with Republicans at their expense.

The varied assessments came shortly after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives rejected Reid's plan to raise the nation's debt ceiling Saturday -- partisan payback for the Democratic-controlled Senate's rejection of Boehner's plan Friday night.

The House voted the proposal down in a sharply polarized 173-246 vote. Most Democrats supported the measure while every Republican opposed it.

GOP leaders conducted the vote on Reid's bill under rules requiring a two-thirds majority for passage, thereby ensuring its defeat.

The vote was a likely prelude to a long weekend of furious back-room negotiations between leaders in Congress looking for a way to end a tense political standoff and avoid a potentially catastrophic federal default next week.

The Senate voted 59-41 Friday evening to table Boehner's measure -- effectively killing it -- almost immediately after the speaker's plan was approved by the House in a 218-210 vote. Most Republicans supported the Boehner plan while Democrats unanimously opposed it.

GOP leaders in the House were forced to delay the vote on Boehner's bill by a day while the speaker rounded up support from wary tea party conservatives. Boehner's deal with conservatives -- adding a provision requiring congressional approval of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in order to raise the debt limit next year -- was blasted by Democrats, who called it a political nonstarter.

For his part, Reid, D-Nevada, has said the Senate may be required to take up his plan at 1 a.m. ET on Sunday -- part of that chamber's arcane procedural path required to get something passed before the Treasury runs out of funds. Any proposal put forward by Reid will ultimately need the support of at least seven Senate Republicans in order to reach the 60-vote margin required to overcome a certain GOP filibuster.

Forty-three of the Senate's 47 Republicans sent a letter to Reid Saturday promising to oppose his plan as currently drafted. Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Massachusetts' Scott Brown, and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski declined to sign it.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, urged Reid on Saturday afternoon to hold a quick vote on his bill in order to clear the way for new talks.

Your plan "will not pass the Senate. It will not pass the House. It is simply a nonstarter," McConnell told Reid on the Senate floor. "Hold the vote here and now" and let's "not waste another minute of the nation's time."

Reid responded by accusing the Republicans of wasting time on the Boehner plan, and criticized the Senate GOP for not allowing his plan to be considered with a simple majority vote.

"The two parties must work together to forge an agreement that preserves this nation's economy," Reid said. "My door is still open."

Democratic leaders vehemently object not only to the balanced budget amendment, but also the GOP's insistence that a second debt ceiling vote be held before the next election. They argue that reaching bipartisan agreement on another debt ceiling hike during an election year could be nearly impossible, and that short-term extensions of the limit could further destabilize the economy.

President Obama urged compromise Friday, and asked Senate Democrats and Republicans on Friday to take the lead in the congressional deliberations.

"This is not a situation where the two parties are miles apart," the president insisted. But "we are almost out of time."

As the political maneuvering continues, the clock continues to tick down. If Congress fails to raise the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2, Americans could face rising interest rates and a declining dollar, among other problems.

Some financial experts have warned of a downgrade of America's triple-A credit rating and a potential stock market plunge. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped for a sixth straight day on Friday.

Without an increase in the debt limit, the federal government will not be able to pay all its bills next month. Obama recently indicated he can't guarantee Social Security checks will be mailed out on time.

Leaders of both parties now agree that any deal to raise the debt ceiling should include long-term spending reductions to help control spiraling deficits. But they still differ sharply on both the timetable and requirements tied to certain cuts.

Regardless, there have been signs of a growing recognition of a need for further compromise. Earlier this week, McConnell called for renewed negotiations with Obama, and indicated that his party must be willing to move away from some of its demands.

Sources close to the negotiations have also told CNN that Vice President Joe Biden is very much in the mix of back-channel conversations on a possible fallback position.

White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said that similarities between the Boehner and Reid plans "may be the grounds for a deal that, hopefully, both parties can pass."

Both plans suffered setbacks earlier this week when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released reports concluding that they fell short of their stated deficit reduction goals.

America's Debt Crisis

Boehner's plan, which has since been revised, proposed generating a total of $917 billion in savings while initially raising the debt ceiling by $900 billion. The speaker has pledged to match any debt ceiling hike with dollar-for-dollar spending cuts.

His plan, however, would require a second vote by Congress to raise the debt ceiling by a combined $2.5 trillion -- enough to last through the end of 2012. It would create a special congressional committee to recommend additional savings of $1.6 trillion or more.

Any failure on the part of Congress to enact mandated spending reductions or abide by new spending caps would trigger automatic across-the-board budget cuts.

The plan, as amended Friday, also calls for congressional passage of a balanced budget amendment before the second vote to raise the debt ceiling, which would likely be required at some point during the winter.

Boehner vs. Reid bills: Where they meet

As for Reid's plan, a revised version he proposed Friday would reduce deficits over the next decade by $2.4 trillion and raise the debt ceiling by a similar amount. It includes $1 trillion in savings based on the planned U.S. withdrawals from military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Reid's plan also would establish a congressional committee made up of 12 House and Senate members to consider additional options for debt reduction. The committee's proposals would be guaranteed by a Senate vote with no amendments by the end of the year.

In addition, it incorporates a process based on a proposal by McConnell that would give Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling in two steps while providing Congress the opportunity to vote its disapproval.

Among other things, Reid has stressed that his plan meets the key GOP demand for no additional taxes. Boehner, however, argued this week that Reid's plan fails to tackle popular entitlement programs such as Medicare, which are among the biggest drivers of the debt.

A recent CNN/ORC International Poll reveals a growing public exasperation and demand for compromise. Sixty-four percent of respondents to a July 18-20 survey preferred a deal with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. Only 34% preferred a debt reduction plan based solely on spending reductions.

According to the poll, the public is sharply divided along partisan lines; Democrats and independents are open to a number of different approaches because they think a failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause a major crisis for the country. Republicans, however, draw the line at tax increases, and a narrow majority of them oppose raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

-- CNN's Ted Barrett, Kate Bolduan, Gloria Borger, Keating Holland, Brianna Keilar, Jeanne Sahadi, Xuan Thai, Jessica Yellin, Barbara Starr and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report To top of page

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