Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner predicted Thursday that a majority of House Republicans will end up supporting some kind of compromise as the Senate began debating a House-passed effort to tie an increase in the debt ceiling to conservative demands for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called up the measure to placate Republicans demanding a vote. But he said it "doesn't have one chance in a million of passing the Senate."
At a news conference, Boehner told reporters, "Frankly, I think it would be irresponsible on behalf of the Congress and the president not to be looking at back-up strategies for how to solve this problem."
"At the end of the day, we have a responsibility to act," the Ohio Republican said.
Asked whether GOP lawmakers supporting the House's "cut, cap and balance" debt limit measure would be unwilling to ultimately compromise, Boehner said, "I'm sure we've got some members who believe that, but I do not believe that would be anywhere close to the majority."
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Jay Carney reported little progress from private meetings President Barack Obama held Wednesday with Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and separately with congressional Democratic leaders.
"There is no deal, we are not close to a deal," Carney said.
"There is no progress to report but we continue to work on getting the most significant deficit reduction package possible because we think it's the right thing for the economy," he said.
Boehner's talk of possible accommodation in the protracted political stalemate over federal budget policy came as the Senate took up the tea party-backed House legislation Thursday. It ties an increase in the government's borrowing authority to a series of conservative demands, including immediate spending cuts and a constitutional balanced budget amendment.
Democrats argue that the so-called "cut, cap and balance" measure would impose untenable spending restraints and set spending levels, as a percentage of the overall economy, on par with the mid-1960s — before the advent of Medicare and automatic Social Security cost-of-living adjustments.
The development Thursday reflected the reality that there's more talk than progress as official Washington wrangles daily over finding a way out of a debt dilemma that has the government sliding inexorably toward a first-ever default on its financial obligations.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday the legislation now before his chamber would be an opportunity for lawmakers to "go on record in support of balancing our books or against it." He urged Democrats to join GOP senators in backing it.
Democrats are expected to kill the measure — which they say would demand debilitating cuts to Medicare — in a vote on Saturday if not before.
Meanwhile, momentum on a separate bipartisan budget plan by the Senate's "Gang of Six" seemed to ebb as critics warned the measure contains larger tax increases than advertised and it became plain that the measure comes too late and is too controversial to advance quickly — particularly as a part of a debt limit package that already would be teetering on a knife's edge.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a member of the Gang of Six, said Thursday that some 40 senators of both parties back the plan his group has brought forward. It generally takes 60 votes to pass legislation in the 100-member Senate because the rules permit unlimited debate unless a supermajority votes to limit it.
But Conrad also said he feels there's too little time between now and Aug. 2 to complete a comprehensive package of spending cuts, benefit program changes and an overhaul of the tax code.
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