J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Republican House members sought to even the score with the Senate on Saturday, preparing to reject Democratic legislation to avert an unprecedented U.S. financial default after senators turned down the House's plan. Three days before the debt-limit deadline, lawmakers and President Barack Obama remained at loggerheads on the debt crisis.
Both the House and Senate debated through the afternoon at the Capitol as weekend tourists sampled the sights on the National Mall outside. The temperature rose to the 90s on a sunny day.
Saturday's House vote, though sure to be negative, could pave the way for negotiations on a compromise with Tuesday's deadline on the government's ability to pay its bills fast approaching. Obama, in his weekly radio and Internet address, warned that "there is very little time" and pleaded with both Republicans and Democrats to stop political gamesmanship.
"The time for compromise on behalf of the American people is now," Obama said.
Resolution remained elusive. Some 43 Senate Republicans said they opposed the Democratic bill by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Reid's alternative measure would raise the debt limit by $2.4 trillion while cutting spending by $2.2 trillion.
In a letter to Reid, they wrote that the bill "fails to address our current fiscal imbalance and lacks any serious effort to ensure that any subsequent spending cuts are enacted."
Setting the stage for the high-stakes weekend, Senate Democrats late Friday killed a House-passed debt-limit increase and budget-cutting bill less than two hours after it squeaked through the House. Reid set up a test vote for the wee hours of Sunday morning to break a GOP filibuster on his own legislation.
Before then, however, the House scheduled a vote Saturday afternoon to reject Reid's alternative measure before the Senate could take it up.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, made it clear how that vote would go.
In a news release titled "DOA: Sen. Reid's Bill a Non-Starter in the House (and the Senate?)," the Ohio Republican said the vote "will demonstrate that the Reid bill cannot pass the House. This will also expose any Senate vote on the Reid bill as a pointless political exercise that squanders precious time as the specter of a job-crushing default looms."
House Democrats said they would put aside their resistance to legislation that makes deep spending cuts and back the measure in a show of strength that could improve Reid's leverage in negotiations.
"There are some misgivings, but it's the only game in town," said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., as he emerged from an hour-long closed door meeting.
Democrats, Republicans and the White House, meanwhile, were expected to be deep in conversation in hopes of a potential compromise. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was likely to play a pivotal role.
The outcome of the weekend endgame was anything but clear as Democrats and Republicans remained at odds over how to force lawmakers to come up with additional budget savings later this year beyond the almost $1 trillion in agency budget cuts over the coming decade that they basically agree on.
At the start of the Senate's session Saturday, Reid appealed to Republicans to work with him on his proposal, particularly McConnell.
"We're willing to listen to Republican ideas to make this proposal better, but time is running short," Reid said.
McConnell said the Reid plan wasn't "going anywhere. Senate Republicans refuse to go along with this transparently political and deeply irresponsible ploy to give the president cover to make our debt crisis even worse than it already is."
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