DEBT SHOWDOWN

House preempts Senate, rejecting 'mirror' Reid bill before Senate votes

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Republican-led House on Saturday rejected a Senate Democratic bill to raise the nation's debt limit just three days before the deadline to avert an unprecedented U.S. financial default. President Barack Obama and lawmakers remained at loggerheads on any possible compromise.

U.S. Capitol in 1921. Photo: Library of Congress

With tensions high at a rare weekend session, the legislation failed on a 246-173 vote that was largely symbolic. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill.

Saturday's result, however, could pave the way for negotiations on a compromise with Tuesday's deadline on the government's ability to pay its bills fast approaching. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were heading to the White House late Saturday.

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.

Pelosi, for her part, told the House it was "time to end this theater of the absurd. It's time for us to get real."

Resolution remained elusive. Some 43 Senate Republicans said they opposed the Democratic bill by Reid. His 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." The 43 are enough to block passage of Reid's bill.

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.

Saturday's debate in the House was heated and sometimes nasty, with occasional efforts to shout down speakers. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., railed against the "pernicious nonsense" from Republican Rep. David Dreier of California.

Freshman Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., said, "This Harry Reid plan offers no real solutions to the out-of-control spending problems."

Countered Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.: "The clock is ticking and Republicans are continuing to play political games."

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., read a statement that then-Sen. Barack Obama had delivered years ago against raising the debt limit.

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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