WASHINGTON — Conservative Republicans on Tuesday balked at House GOP leaders' pleas to stop whining and back their plan to slash spending and increase the nation's borrowing authority, jeopardizing the party's suggested path out of the debt crisis.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is trying to round up the votes for his plan to cut spending about $1.2 trillion and extend the debt ceiling for about six months, one of two rival plans amid the struggle between President Barack Obama and Congress to settle on an elusive compromise.
Washington and the nation are staring down an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt limit or face national default.
Flanked by conservative colleagues, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told reporters he could not back the Boehner proposal and said it doesn't have the votes to pass. In a two-step plan, Boehner is pressing for a vote on Wednesday and a second vote Thursday on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
"We think there are real problems with this plan," said Jordan, who heads the Republican Study Group. He argued that the spending cuts are insufficient and expressed opposition to likely tax increases.
"If I had to vote right now, my vote would be no," said Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla.
The conservative challenge came just hours after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told rank and file to stop grumbling as he sought to rally lawmakers for the Boehner plan. In the closed-door session, the Virginia Republican acknowledged the resistance to increasing the nation's borrowing authority. "The debt limit vote sucks," he told his caucus. But Cantor insisted that it must be done.
Cantor spelled out the options for the GOP — allowing default and stepping into an economic abyss, backing the Senate Democratic plan or calling Obama's bluff by backing the GOP's own proposal.
Neither of the rival plans offered by Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., seemed to have the necessary votes in Congress amid a bitter stalemate that could have far-reaching repercussions for the fragile U.S. economy as well as global markets. Stocks fell Tuesday as U.S. markets registered their nervousness over the Washington gridlock between President Barack Obama and Republicans.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said the administration remains in contact with congressional leaders despite the collapse of talks last Friday and inconclusive discussions this past weekend.
"We're working on Plan B. ... There has to be a product that can pass the House and the Senate and be signed into law," said Carney, who argued that the Boehner plan has no chance of passing in the Senate.
Carney insisted that Aug. 2 is the drop dead date for the Treasury's cash flow — "beyond that date we lose our capacity to borrow" — and expressed confidence that the debt ceiling would be raised by the deadline.
The continued bickering on Capitol Hill overshadowed any signs of emerging common ground.
An influential conservative advocacy group urged lawmakers to vote against both plans. "Speaker Boehner's most recent proposal to raise the debt limit is regrettably insufficient to our times," Heritage Action for America said in a letter Tuesday to House members.
Boehner told reporters that the "we are going to have some work to do to get it passed but I think we can do it."
In the Senate, Reid challenged Republicans to back his competing legislation, arguing that the no-taxes, government-cuts proposal was just what they wanted.
"In short, it's everything the Republicans have demanded wrapped up in a bow and delivered to their door," Reid said at the start of the Senate session.
In a prime-time address Monday, Obama pleaded for compromise and urged Americans to contact their lawmakers.
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