GOP leaders, Biden scramble for House support on debt deal

Congressional leaders are urgently trying to secure the votes to pass the bipartisan debt-limit deal as the House prepares for a critical vote on Monday evening.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) predicted passage with a majority of the GOP conference behind the deal. 

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"Working closely with [the whip] and the Speaker, I think we are going to get there," Cantor said. 

The majority leader also said President Obama would work to secure the necessary Democratic votes for the measure. 

"I think the president will insist that leaders on the other side make the case for this bill," Cantor told a handful of reporters Monday afternoon. "This is a compromise bill from everyone's perspective. We've actually demonstrated that we are going to change the way the system works in this town."

The House will vote before the Senate on the must-pass measure, and senior Republicans said they expect the lower chamber to vote by early evening, perhaps by 6 or 7 p.m.

The House Rules Committee quickly approved a resolution sending the bill to the floor Monday afternoon.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he hopes to hold a vote late Monday night, but it could slip until Tuesday. Congress must act by Tuesday to avert an unprecedented U.S. government default on its debt.

House Republicans said party leaders appeared confident they would pass the bill in a conference meeting early Monday afternoon.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) “seemed optimistic,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said. “Based on the way everyone’s talking, I think they will easily have the votes.”

Yet a bloc of House Republicans remained concerned about the level of military cuts in the bill, and Boehner scheduled a separate meeting with GOP members of the House Armed Services Committee.


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“There’s certainly serious concerns from those of us on Armed Services about the military cuts,” freshman Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), who is undecided, said after the conference meeting.

However, a senior GOP aide said that the chairman of the Armed Services panel, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and the chairman of the Defense appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), both spoke up in support of the bill before their Republican colleagues.

There was significant consternation among House Democrats, who met with Vice President Biden for more than an hour and a half Monday. Asked after the meeting whether the votes were there to pass the package, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said: “You'd have to ask the Speaker.”

Democrats will have a second meeting without White House officials on Monday afternoon. “We're faced with a very difficult choice,” Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) said. “Most people, I would say, are not happy with this bill.”

Pelosi was silent when asked if she'll support the bill.

A Democratic leadership aide said the party was not lobbying their members to support the deal. "We are not whipping, we are doing a leadership survey to see where members are," the aide said.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he’s still undecided and wants to hear more from the caucus.

“The caucus is concerned this is not as balanced as they'd want,” he said. “But they're also very concerned about the possibility of default, which they believe would be damaging to the economy and damaging to jobs.”

Biden, who worked closely with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on the agreement, on Monday told reporters he thinks the deal will pass. McConnell said he is “very optimistic” it would be approved.

Dozens of lawmakers on Monday told reporters they were undecided on the new debt deal.

A cost estimate by the Congressional Budget Office was released before noon, clearing another hurdle for House and Senate votes. The CBO found the package would save at least $2.1 trillion over 10 years, in line with initial estimates.

This story was posted at 11:41 a.m. and updated at 3:20 p.m.