Debt deal no closer

HIGH ANXIETY over a possible default by the United States on its mountainous debt was undiminished last night, amid further wrangling on Capitol Hill on a possible way out of the crisis, with Republicans still pitted against Democrats and even against each other.

In a closed-door meeting withparty members, the Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, pleaded for solidarity, saying he needed an “army” behind him as he faced further negotiations with Democrats in both chambers and with the White House. Aides indicated that more Republicans would fall in line with Mr Boehner’s own blueprint to end the crisis and suggested that a vote in the House that had been put off from yesterday could come as early as today.

The delay in the vote, announced late on Tuesday, highlighted the difficulties Mr Boehner has been facing because of a rebellion from the Tea Party faction of his party, which has been reluctant to support his own plan for ending the stand-off, calling it insufficient. Even if Mr Boehner could muster enough Republican votes for his plan, there seemed little hope of it winning approval in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Aware that all paths to a deal on Capitol Hill remained strewn with obstacles, the White House said it was crafting its own version that would incorporate elements both of the Boehner plan and of a competing plan authored by Senator Harry Reid, leader of the Democrat majority in the upper chamber. “We have been in regular contact with leaders of both houses and both parties,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We’re working on plan B.”

Matters for Mr Boehner were made worse late Tuesday when the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office determined that his plan initially to cut $1.2 trillion ((pounds sterling)731bn) in spending over 10 years while raising the debt limit by a first tranche of $900bn, would in reality trim only $850bn from spending projections. That stiffened opposition to it by radical conservatives.

The CBO similarly found that the Reid plan was overstating its own potential for cutting the deficit by about $500bn, and would cut just $2.2trn from the country’s deficit.

In the wake of the CBO analysis, aides to Mr Boehner were last night scrambling to rewrite parts of his plan to ensure that the cuts it would deliver would outstrip the amount by which the debt ceiling would be raised. “We promised that we will cut spending more than we increase the debt limit, with no tax hikes, and we will keep that promise,” his spokesman, Michael Steel, said. Just as they were trying to get the dollar numbers to work, however, they were also trying to get the vote numbers to align.

The White House meanwhile has served notice that even if the Boehner plan were to pass Congress it would face a veto from President Barack Obama, because it represents only a start to the process that would inevitably require further negotiations on a longer-term solution next year, when the President will be in the throes of seeking re-election.

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