WASHINGTON -- House leaders called off plans to vote on their new budget plan, after failing to get enough support from conservative rank-and-file members to pass the proposal.
A meeting of the House Rules Committee, which must approve any legislation before it reaches the floor, was postponed just moments before it was set to begin late Tuesday afternoon.
Shortly before that, the influential conservative advocacy group Heritage Action had sent a notice that it was opposing the new Republican proposal, saying the plan would “do nothing to stop Obamacare’s massive new entitlements from taking root.”
The apparent failure would be a severe blow to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). It would leave a Senate proposal being negotiated by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as the only available plan to avert the possibility of the government defaulting on its bills. The Treasury has said it would be at risk of default after Thursday.
“We’ve tried. We’ve waged a pretty good battle here over the last several weeks. I don’t think anybody wanted to be in the spot we’re in right now,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.).
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) blamed House conservatives for the failure. “It’s been about 30 people that make their money on not hanging with the team. And so that’s on them,” he said.
As the legislative stalemate continued, the Fitch Ratings agency put the government’s AAA credit rating on watch for a potential downgrade. The company said in a statement Tuesday that it still believed the debt limit would be raised soon, but the “political brinkmanship” was risking a default.
Republican leaders spent much of the day trying to alter their plans in hopes of attracting more conservative support.
Boehner’s initial plan would have accepted key parts of the Senate deal: reopening the federal government by extending current spending levels through Jan. 15, and raising the nation’s debt limit through Feb. 7. It would have ended the Treasury Department’s ability to use “extraordinary measures” to continue financing government debt after the debt limit had been reached and delay for two years a tax on medical devices that the law imposes on manufacturers.
By midday, he had changed the plan to provide funds for agencies only through Dec. 15. He also broadened a provision, popular among conservative activists, that would prohibit the government from paying its traditional employer’s share of insurance premiums for members of Congress and administration officials to also include congressional staff. The provision repealing the medical device tax was dropped.
Throughout the afternoon, Republicans shuttled in and out of a suite of offices for Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor as leaders gauged support. With House Democrats vowing to vote against the plan, leaders had little margin for error, able to lose no more than 15 votes. When the House voted to approve the last debt ceiling increase in January, 33 Republicans voted against it.
But the frenetic efforts yielded few new votes.
“Put me in the ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ category,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), among the House’s most conservative members, posted on Twitter.