POLITICS

Last-minute debt compromise 'very near' - or not

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To get to the endgame, Republicans and Democrats had to go through the formality of killing each other's bills - scoring their own political points - before they could turn to meaningful negotiations.

Harry Reid and John Boehner in a meeting earlier this week. (Photo: Associated Press)

Still, the sudden talk of compromise contrasted sharply with the day's earlier developments as both the House and Senate convened for unusual Saturday sessions.

The House voted down legislation drafted by Democrat Reid to raise the government's debt limit by $2.4 trillion and cut spending by the same amount.

The vote was 246-173, mostly along party lines and after debate filled with harsh, partisan remarks.

Republicans said the Reid spending-cuts plan was filled with gimmicks and would make unacceptable reductions in Pentagon accounts. "It offers no real solutions to the out-of-control spending problems," said Rep. Alan Nunnelee of Mississippi, part of a group of 87 first-term Republicans who have led the push for deeper spending cuts.

Not even Democrats seemed to like the legislation very much, although many emerged from a closed-door meeting of the rank and file saying they would vote for it.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, called it "the least worst alternative to avoid default."

Yet with their votes, many Democrats signaled their readiness for compromise by voting to cut spending without raising taxes. Many Republicans insist taxes must not be raised to cut into federal deficits, even for the wealthiest Americans and for big oil companies.

In remarks on the House floor, Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., said the vote itself could be prelude to a final effort at compromise that would involve the White House and the leaders of both parties.

Across the Capitol, the Senate marked the hours before a scheduled test vote at 1 a.m. Sunday on the same measure.

There was no doubt about the outcome there, either, unless compromise intervened.

A total of 43 Republicans sent Reid a letter saying they would block the bill from advancing, enough to prevail.

With both parties' preferred solutions blocked, the only alternatives were compromise that was so far elusive or a default that no one claimed to want.

The day's events in the House were orchestrated as political payback, and unusual at that, since Republicans lined up to kill legislation that hadn't even cleared the Senate.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Reid had engineered the demise of a House-passed bill hours after it passed, and without so much as a debate on its merit.

Pelosi said Boehner "chose to go to the dark side" when he changed his own legislation to satisfy tea party lawmakers and other critics.

There were catcalls from the Republican side of the aisle at that, and Pelosi responded by repeating that the speaker "chose to go to the dark side."

Republicans ridiculed Reid's legislation.

"Not only does it fail to address our spending and debt problem, it won't even prevent a downgrade of our credit rating," said Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J. "We need actual cuts to government spending to address our long-term debt crisis, not phantom cuts and accounting gimmicks."

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