WASHINGTON — Six days away from a potentially calamitous government default, House Republicans on Wednesday appeared to be slowly coalescing around a plan by House Speaker John Boehner to avert the debt crisis — a plan Boehner was still retooling to increase its complement of spending cuts. But Senate Democrats insisted the short-term solution Republicans were crafting would leave the economy on shaky footing.
Each side claimed the moral high ground as a new day of jockeying over to how to end the debt crisis began. And budget analysts suggested both sides had been over-promising how much in spending cuts their rival plans would deliver.
Boehner, R-Ohio, set out to rework his plan after nonpartisan analysts from the Congressional Budget Office said it would cut spending less than advertised — about $850 over 10 years rather than the $1.2 trillion initially promised. GOP leaders planned a House vote Thursday on the reworked plan.
"We're moving in his direction in a big way today," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said of Boehner's plan. Rogers and others cited changes being made in the bill to make sure spending cuts exceed added borrowing authority, and the fact that the House will soon vote on a balanced budget plan.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said only Boehner's plan would resolve the crisis "in a way that will allow us to avoid default without raising taxes and to cut spending budget gimmicks."
A rival proposal offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would deliver savings of a little more than $2 trillion, a half-trillion less than promised but still more than under Boehner's plan, budget analysts reported.
Reid said Boehner's original plan was so weak that it "didn't even have the support of Republicans in his own chamber."
"A short-term solution is not an adequate solution for our economy," Reid said. "It's not Democrats who have asked for a long-term solution. It's the economy. The economy has demanded it."
House Democrats, for their part, said Obama should invoke a little-known constitutional provision to prevent the nation from going into default if Congress fails to come up with a plan to raise the debt ceiling.
Rep. James Clyburn, a member of the Democratic leadership, said he told fellow Democrats on Wednesday that Obama should both veto the House GOP plan for a short-term extension of the debt ceiling and invoke the 14th amendment, which says that the validity of the nation's public debt "shall not be questioned."
The White House has rejected resorting to this tactic to keep the nation from defaulting. But Democratic Caucus chairman John Larson said that with only days left before Treasury's borrowing authority lapses, "we have to have a failsafe mechanism."
Amid all the heated rhetoric, the differences between the sides were narrowing.
Boehner's plan represents significant movement from a bill the House passed last week, this one requiring less of the long-term spending cuts that had made Democrats balk. And Reid no longer is insisting on having tax increases, anathema to Republicans, as part of any plan to cut deficits.
Boehner needs to do more than pump up the legislation, however. He has to shore up his standing with tea party-backed conservatives demanding deeper spending cuts to accompany an almost $1 trillion increase in the government's borrowing cap. Many conservatives already had promised to oppose it.
Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., said he remained undecided, but predicted that the reworked Boehner plan was "about as good as it's going to get. That's a pretty strong argument."
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