Boehner won't say if his bill is House's final offer

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) implored the Senate to take up his debt-limit bill but pointedly refused to say whether it would be the House’s final offer before a potential U.S. default on Aug. 2.

“We have a reasonable, responsible bill that was put together with the bipartisan leadership of the United States Senate, and I would hope that they would take it up,” Boehner said Thursday at a press conference with House Republican leaders.

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“There is no reason for them to say no. It is time for somebody in this town to say yes,” Boehner added.

Asked if the House would remain in session over the weekend — when it would potentially consider Senate revisions to Boehner’s bill — the Speaker replied: “Sure.” He did not answer directly when asked if the House would consider a different version from the Senate.

A Boehner spokesman, Michael Steel, said after the press conference: “We believe that once we pass the Budget Control Act, the only responsible course of action will be for the Senate to pass it and the president to sign it — which will end this crisis.”

The House will vote on Boehner’s bill around 6 p.m. Thursday, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said the upper chamber will immediately take up and “defeat” the measure if it passes the House.

Boehner earlier Thursday told House Republicans he did not yet have the votes to pass the bill, and the party’s chief vote-counter, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), stopped short of guaranteeing a victory to reporters.

“The momentum is moving in our direction,” McCarthy said. He added: “This conference has moved a great deal in a short time.”

The Boehner measure would increase the $14.3 trillion debt limit through around February while cutting $917 billion in spending over 10 years. A subsequent increase in the debt ceiling through 2012 would be conditioned on congressional enactment of a $1.8 trillion deficit-reduction package.

“Nobody in my caucus believes it is perfect,” Boehner said of his legislation.

“Listen, for the sake of jobs and for the sake of our country, I am asking the representatives in the House in a bipartisan way and our colleagues in the Senate: Let’s pass this bill and end this crisis.”

The White House and Democratic leaders are opposed to any measure that does not increase the debt limit through 2012 immediately.

Asked if he was open to the Senate sending back a modified, compromise version of the Boehner bill, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will have two choices.

“Either he can bring on default and suffer the economic consequences, which I hope he doesn’t choose, or he can take our compromise bill, something that was negotiated with him, and pass it and resolve this situation and allow this crisis to go away,” Cantor said.

Boehner said he disagreed with conservatives who want the GOP to push the crisis past Aug. 2, and repeatedly characterized his legislation as the “responsible” approach.

“With the fragile economy that we have, the last thing we need is to be playing around with Aug. 2,” he said.

The Speaker deflected a question about whether passage of his bill would prevent a downgrade in the U.S. credit rating. “That is beyond my control,” Boehner said.

—Erik Wasson contributed. Updated at 3:28 p.m.