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Debt ceiling: Boehner rallies troops; Reid suffers CBO setback

July 27, 2011|By James Oliphant
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty…)

House Republican leaders Wednesday continued to hector their reluctant caucus to support a bill to raise the federal debt ceiling, with Speaker John Boehner telling his charges in a closed-door meeting  to “get your ass in line!” even as reports surfaced that a Republican staffer was working with outside groups to bury his plan.

At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is also struggling to keep a similar bill alive in his chamber, got the same kind of bad news from the Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday that Boehner received the night before.

The CBO sword fell on Reid’s debt-ceiling plan, slicing its projected savings from $2.7 trillion to $2.2 trillion over 10 years. It had rendered a similar verdict on Boehner’s last-ditch effort, ruling that it would only save an estimated $850 billion instead of about $1 trillion over the same period.

Boehner’s projected savings are smaller than Reid’s because the speaker’s bill would raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit in two stages and would defer cuts to expensive entitlement programs until later. Republicans insist that any bill that raises the ceiling at the very least reduce spending by an equal amount.

After the CBO’s verdict came down Tuesday evening, Boehner vowed to rewrite the legislation to yield the desired savings. That forced the House leadership to postpone a vote on the plan to Thursday. Reid now similarly must return to the drawing board, especially since the prospects for the success of his bill rest on whether he can persuade a handful of GOP senators to sign on and ward off a filibuster.

The delay in the House may have been to Boehner’s benefit, as it allows the speaker, along with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), to continue to twist arms to convince conservatives to support the bill, which Boehner has said is their best hope for resolving the debt-ceiling crisis on their terms.

Boehner doesn’t want to look to the minority Democrats for help to pass a bill in the House—nor would he likely gain much for his proposal regardless -- and so can only afford to lose just short of two-dozen votes on his side.

The lobbying continued amid fresh reports of tension within the divided Republican caucus.

Rank-and-file Republicans were outraged when reports surfaced that a staffer for the Republican Study Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, worked with outside groups on a pressure campaign to kill the Boehner bill. A spokesman, Brian Straessle, apologized on Jordan’s behalf Wednesday.

Jordan himself had blasted Boehner’s plan a day earlier, predicting that it lacked GOP votes to pass.

"Earlier this week, an RSC staffer sent an inappropriate email to outside groups that identified members of Congress he believed were undecided on the debt reduction proposal offered by the Speaker,” Straessle said. “This action was clearly inappropriate and was not authorized by the chairman or any other members of the staff.  This has never been--and never will be-- the way we do business at the RSC.  We apologize to everyone affected, and we have already taken steps to ensure that it never happens again -- either by this staffer or any other RSC staffer."

Reid said Wednesday that he was preparing for Boehner’s plan to pass the House, which would force the leader to either allow a vote on that plan or develop one that can draw GOP support.

His bill, which unlike Boehner's relies significantly on counting savings from winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was dinged by the independent CBO for utilizing a different baseline for its calculations, but the $2.2-trillion score, just $200 billion short of the proposed debt-ceiling hike, still left Democrats gleeful, with Reid and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York calling on Boehner to drop his effort in favor of the Senate bill.

Senate Republicans have called Reid's war-funding maneuver a "gimmick."

“Don’t anyone ever think that we’ll be left only with the Boehner plan,” Reid told reporters. “It is not a solution and it will not pass. Every Democratic senator will vote against [it]. Whether we get it tonight, tomorrow or the next day.”

Kathleen Hennessey, Lisa Mascaro, and Michael A. Memoli of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

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