House plans to tweak Senate debt/budget proposal as Democrats fume

McClatchy Washington BureauOctober 15, 2013 

Budget Battle

Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, and House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy,R-Calif.


While the Senate appears close to a deal, House of Representatives Republicans are preparing their own plan to reopen the government and raise the debt limit. A vote could come as soon as Tuesday night.

Democrats are furious.

The two chambers do seem to agree on funding the government at the current level -- $986 billion -- through Jan. 15, and increasing the debt limit until Feb. 7. The House would also require a budget conference, or negotiation, on a bigger budget compromise by December 15. The Senate has a deadline two days earlier.

One difference: The House wants to delay the 2.3 percent medical device tax. The Senate would end a reinsurance tax paid by unions and other major self-insurers.

The House also is eager to bar contributions for health insurance coverage for members of Congress and top executive branch officials, including President Barack Obama. And they would beef up how the government verifies the incomes of people who qualify for subsidies to help pay for health care coverage.

Whether Republicans had the votes to pass such a plan was uncertain; Republicans spent much of the day huddled privately with each other trying to put final touches on the plan.

The White House was annoyed.

“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.  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," said spokeswoman Amy Brundage.

"Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have been working in a bipartisan, good-faith effort to end the manufactured crises that have already harmed American families and business owners.  With only a couple days remaining until the United States exhausts its borrowing authority, it’s time for the House to do the same."

And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, was downright angry.

"The deadline is looming. Rating agencies are talking about downgrading us as early as tonight," he told the Senate Tuesday. "I know I speak for many of us who have been working in good faith when I say that we felt blindsided from the news from the House."

Reid went on to charge, "The tea party Republicans are trying to take authority away from President Obama. They would never, ever consider doing this if it were President Romney, President Bush or President Reagan."

Michael Steel, Boehner's spokesman, shot right back.

"Is Senator Reid so blinded by partisanship that he is willing to risk default on our debt to protect a 'pacemaker tax' that 34 Senate Democrats are on the record opposing and he himself called 'stupid'?"

Around the Capitol, the mood was largely one of wait and see rather than panic. Boehner tried hard to calm everyone. "Listen, we're working with our members on a way forward, and to make sure that we provide fairness to the American people. ... I have made clear for months and months that the idea of default is wrong, and we shouldn't get anywhere close to it," he told reporters. And, he said, he's flexible. 

"We are talking with our members on both sides of the aisle to try to find a way to move forward today," the speaker said.

Senate Republicans said they welcomed a plan from the House. "The speaker is really taking leadership on this and trying to pass something more in the ballpark of what could pass," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., one of the center-right Republicans considered a key to any deal.

But, she warned of the House, "they need to get their act together."

Negotiations between Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared stalled while House Republicans strategized.

But some Senate Republicans were growing impatient. "We know how it's going to end. It's just a question of when. We're going to raise the debt limit," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The House plan is still a work in progress. After a Tuesday morning meeting of House Republicans, Speaker John Boehner said several points remain under consideration.

Republicans have a 232-200 seat majority in the House. If the Senate can muster a big bipartisan majority, its leaders believe the House would be hard-pressed to reject it.

But that could mean a bipartisan coalition, one where at least 17 Republicans would have to join Democrats. That's considered possible, since an estimated 28 Republicans have said they would reopen the government with no conditions attached.  

At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney warned that the parties are "far from a deal at this point." He said the White House is "pleased with the progress" in the Senate, but delivered a pointed message to the House.

"Time is of the essence," he said, noting that Treasury believes it will hit the debt ceiling on Thursday. "So I think that is why you see some very serious-minded efforts being undertaken in the Senate and we would hope that the House would also approach this important deadline with the understanding of just how serious it is."

Carney spoke after the House proposal seemed stalled and he suggested Republicans were "going back to try to add some sweetness for tea party members."


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