Washington An intensive endgame at hand, Republican leaders abruptly postponed a vote Thursday night on legislation to avert a threatened government default and slice federal spending by nearly $1 trillion.
“The votes obviously were not there,” conceded Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., after Speaker John Boehner and the leadership had spent hours trying to corral the support of rebellious conservatives.
The decision created fresh turmoil as divided government struggled to head off an unprecedented default that would leave the Treasury without the funds needed to pay all its bills. Administration officials say Tuesday is the deadline for Congress to act.
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the House bill, and the White House taunted Republicans as they struggled.
“Another day wasted while the clock ticks, now is the time to compromise so we can solve this problem and reduce the deficit,” tweeted communications director Dan Pfeiffer.
Senate Democrats stood by to scuttle the bill — if it ever got them — as a way of forcing Republicans to accept changes sought by Obama.
The first sign of trouble for the House’s supporters occurred after hours of routine debate, when the GOP leadership suddenly halted work on the measure.
As the evening slipped by Boehner summoned a string of Republican critics of the bill to his office. Asked what he and the speaker had talked about, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said, “I think that’s rather obvious. ... There’s negotiations going on.”
Based on public statements by lawmakers themselves, it appeared that five of some two dozen holdouts were from South Carolina. Others said conservatives wanted additional steps taken to try to send a constitutional balanced-budget amendment to the states for ratification.
A few first-term conservatives slipped into a small chapel a few paces down the hall from the Capitol Rotunda as they contemplated one of the most consequential votes of their careers.
Asked if he was seeking divine inspiration, Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said that had already happened. “I was leaning no and now I am a no.”