House Republican leaders abandoned a plan to hold a vote on a new proposal to reopen the government and hike the debt ceiling on Tuesday night, pushing the U.S. government closer to a default amid continued GOP disagreement over how to end the high-stakes budget standoff.
With just a few days left before the federal government reaches its borrowing limit, House Republican leaders had unveiled a proposal earlier in the day to reopen the government and raise the borrowing limit that they thought could pass the embattled Republican-led chamber. But just moments after Republicans submitted it to the House Rules Committee for a review, the panel announced that it would postpone its hearing indefinitely — suggesting the votes were not there to pass it.
The key parts of the plan would have kept the government open through mid-December and grant the Treasury Department authorization to borrow through February. But the proposal also includes a stipulation that members of Congress, their staff and administration officials — including President Barack Obama — be forced to obtain health insurance coverage through the exchanges established under Obamacare. Unlike most Americans, they also would not be eligible to receive federal subsidies to offset the cost of those plans or seek financial help from their employer.
The House Republican proposal came after several days of intense and delicate negotiations between Senate Republicans and Democrats. The failure to hold a vote will likely shift responsibility to the Senate. After the announcement that the House would not vote, Senate leaders began negotiations for a proposal in the upper chamber, aides to top Senate Republicans and Democrats confirmed.
"Given tonight's events, the leaders have decided to work toward a solution that would reopen the government and prevent default," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "They are optimistic an agreement can be reached."
The Treasury Department says the U.S. government is close to running into the debt ceiling, which they say will take place on Thursday or Friday.
Because the cash-strapped U.S. government needs to borrow cash to pay for existing programs, failure to raise the debt limit means that not long after Thursday the government will not be able to pay all of its bills.
That raises the prospect of a default on America’s public debt as well as on other obligations such as Social Security payments, which would send a shock wave through the fragile global economy. Independent economists have warned that the international financial system’s reliance on the American economy (and U.S. Treasury bills) means that the global economy could face a fresh contraction, possibly a severe recession.
Heaping pressure on Congress, the Fitch ratings agency warned it could downgrade the United States credit rating from AAA, citing the “political brinkmanship” over the debt limit.
“The prolonged negotiations over raising the debt ceiling (following the episode in August 2011) risks undermining confidence in the role of the U.S. dollar as the preeminent global reserve currency, by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the U.S.,” the agency warned in a press release.
On Tuesday morning, House Republicans met privately for more than an hour in the basement of the Capitol — a meeting that began with a rendition of the song, "Amazing Grace" — but finished with no clear proposal for how to avoid a possible federal default.
Based on reactions from House GOP members leaving the meeting, there appeared to be no consensus of support for the plan, which forced Republican House Speaker John Boehner and his lieutenants to work through the day to find support. Conservative lawmakers who for months have insisted that the health care law be repealed or delayed as part of any deal would obviously have to make concessions to their demands and therefore reject a noisy base that is urging them not to cave.
Democratic leaders in the Senate and White House officials, meanwhile, made clear that they would not accept the House proposals, even though nothing had been officially submitted for a bill.
"Let's be clear: The House legislation will not pass the Senate,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
Chief Washington Correspondent Olivier Knox contributed to this report.