GOP to tweak Boehner debt bill as leaders wrestle to secure more votes

Republican leaders will likely tweak Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) debt-limit bill as they scramble into the night to win enough votes to send the legislation to the Senate.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) told reporters shortly before 10 p.m. that the leadership would likely send the legislation back to the House Rules Committee, indicating that it will be changed before it comes for a floor vote. The expected vote has been delayed by more than four hours as GOP leaders try to persuade recalcitrant members to back Boehner’s plan for a short-term increase in the debt ceiling combined with spending cuts.

The majority whip’s office told members they still expect a vote to occur Thursday night.

Throughout Thursday afternoon and evening, Republican lawmakers shuttled in and out of leadership offices. Some, like Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), said they remained resolutely opposed to Boehner’s bill, while other said they were undecided.

“I think we still have work to do, but we’re gaining,” Walden said.

GOP leaders continued to meet with their members after putting off plans for a vote around 6 p.m.

Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said at the time that the vote would occur "a little bit later" than the original 6 p.m. slot. 

More than four hours later, it remained unclear when the vote would take place. 

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Twenty-five House Republicans either plan to vote no or are leaning no, according to The Hill’s whip count. Nearly three dozen more Republicans are publicly undecided, and 10 of them said or suggested on Thursday that they are still on the fence.

Thursday afternoon presented major setbacks to Boehner, who can only afford 23 defections if — as expected — every Democrat votes no. Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said on Fox News he is a no, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said like other members in his state delegation he is a no, and Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said he is still leaning no.

The task is fast becoming mission impossible, where several members will need to change from no to yes. And all the undecideds have to break with Boehner.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he will immediately move to table Boehner's bill if it passes the lower chamber. Every member of the Senate Democratic Caucus opposes it.

As the House was voting on a separate appropriations bill Thursday afternoon, Boehner shuttled a trio of undecided Republicans — Reps. Chuck Fleishmann (Tenn.), Tom McClintock (Calif.) and Bill Posey (Fla.) — into an office off the House floor for private meetings. Fleischmann subsequently said he will vote yes.

As Posey was leaving, Boehner opened the office door and gave him an enthusiastic handshake in view of a gaggle of reporters watching.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters he was still leaning no on the bill and questioned whether it would be the GOP’s last chance to influence the debt-limit debate. He speculated that the Senate could send Reid’s measure, which he said was similar to Boehner’s proposal, back to the House, and then the House could attach a clean balanced-budget amendment and send it back to the Senate. Such a move would put the ball back in the Senate’s court as Aug. 2 approaches, as well as pressure Democrats to accept a constitutional amendment they have supported in the past. Flake would not say whether he had met privately with Boehner.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a conservative who frequently votes against the leadership, said he remains opposed to the bill but acknowledged that party leaders had discussed compromises that could win him over. He would not disclose what those changes were and said he had not met personally with Boehner.

The 10 Republican members who indicated on Thursday they are undecided are:

Roscoe Bartlett (Md.), who later said he was leaning toward voting yes.
Mo Brooks (Ala.)
Trent Franks (Ariz.)
Scott Garrett (N.J.)
Randy Hultgren (Ill.)
Timothy Johnson (Ill.)
Tom Marino (Pa.)
Jean Schmidt (Ohio)
Michael Turner (Ohio)
Tim Walberg (Mich.)

Unlike the others, Johnson's office declined to comment. The rest said their bosses were still mulling how to vote.

Republican members who did not return phone calls on Thursday include Reps. Joe Barton (Texas), Dan Benishek (Mich.), Dan Burton (Ind.) and John Duncan Jr. (Tenn.). All of these members have bucked their leaders at times on high-profile issues, most notably during the fiscal 2011 budget debate.

The problem for Boehner is that most of the no/leaning no votes on The Hill’s list can't be swayed. These include Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Ron Paul (Texas), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Louie Gohmert (Texas) and Steve King (Iowa.).

Franks played a key role in the 2003 Medicare drug vote, which was supposed to last 15 minutes. Leaders held the vote open for nearly three hours, and convinced Franks and then-Rep. Butch Otter (R-Idaho) to switch their no votes to yeses. The bill was subsequently signed into law by then-President George W. Bush, who was woken up to call Franks during the House vote.

—Erik Wasson contributed to this report.

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