House Republicans lack votes to move plan to raise debt ceiling

House Republican leaders found themselves struggling to secure the votes on Thursday for a debt-ceiling measure they hoped to pass swiftly through the House as the latest salvo in a multifront fiscal fight.

In a closed-door meeting, the leaders outlined to their members a proposal that would demand a laundry list of Republican priorities in exchange for a yearlong suspension of the nation’s $16.7 trillion borrowing limit. The centerpiece of the plan is a one-year delay of President Obama’s signature healthcare law.

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But hours after the meeting, the party had yet to release the legislation formally, and conservatives complained that it lacked specific spending cuts and failed to tackle entitlement reform.

“We still have some challenges,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), an ally of Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRepublican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare The disorderly order of presidential succession MORE (R-Ohio) and member of the GOP whip team. “We’ve got an awful lot of support, but clearly at this point we don’t have a final product that’s attracting the number that we need. Hopefully that’ll change, and I think it could.”

Cole said leaders were still tinkering with the plan, which senior Republicans earlier had said would go to the House Rules Committee on Thursday.

GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersIvanka sells Trump childcare to Capitol Hill Ivanka Trump to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Trump calls congresswoman to stage at child care policy speech MORE (R-Wash.) told The Hill late Thursday that leaders are "still figuring out the timing" of a vote to increase the nation's borrowing authority.

A meeting of the House GOP leadership late Thursday afternoon broke up without an announcement about the bill. Aides said the timing remained "in flux," and the Rules Committee had yet to schedule a meeting.

The committee did plan to meet to approve a same-day rule allowing the debt ceiling to be brought up at any time. GOP leaders previously had argued that because many elements in the debt ceiling plan have been previously voted on by the House, a three-day layover rule could be waived. 

House leaders had hoped to schedule the debt-ceiling vote as early as Friday, thinking it could help them move a separate measure to fund the government. They want to focus the fight over government spending on the debt measure, where they have long believed they have more leverage with the White House. 

The Senate is poised to approve as early as Friday a "clean" measure to fund the government. It would not include language defunding ObamaCare, something included in a measure approved by the House last week after demands by conservatives.

House Republicans will likely only have the weekend to figure out how to move forward because the government is set to shut down on Tuesday if Congress does not approve a funding measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR).

GOP leaders have not put forward any clear plan for a spending measure, and some Republicans said they wanted to see what the leadership hoped to do before they committed to supporting the debt-ceiling bill. 

"There's a laundry list of things I could support ... frankly I want to finish the debate on the CR before we move on to the debt ceiling," said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who organized the effort to defund ObamaCare through the continuing resolution. 

Illustrating the leadership's challenge in winning Republican votes, a member of the GOP's whip team, Rep. Tom Rooney (Fla.), said he was leaning against the debt-ceiling plan because it did not seriously tackle entitlement reform.

“The problem for me is it doesn't address the debt,” Rooney told The Hill.

He questioned how he could defend raising the limit without following through on the reforms Republicans proposed in their budget the past three years.

“How can I possibly justify that?” Rooney asked.

If every Democrat voted against the bill, which is likely, Republicans could afford only 16 defections.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who opposes any debt-ceiling increase at all, estimated there were 10 to 15 Republicans "that feel as strongly as I do," and predicted GOP leaders did not have the votes to pass the legislation.

Democrats blasted the GOP's plan, saying it would go nowhere in the Senate.

“The House is attaching the Republican Party platform to the debt ceiling. In a week full of absurdities, this takes the cake," Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSaudis hire lobbyists amid 9/11 fight Consumer bureau remains partisan target after Wells Fargo settlement Overnight Healthcare: Planned Parenthood deal in sight in Senate | A new 'public option' push MORE (D-N.Y.) said.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) made clear that Republicans were not operating under any illusions that this initial offer would remain intact, however. He described it more as a wish list. 

"We're obviously going to throw out what we want. Obviously that's not going to be acceptable to the other party, most likely," he said. "It puts our marker down."

But Simpson said the one-year delay of ObamaCare is a mandatory component for Republicans. 

"When Obama says he's not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling, that's just baloney," Simpson said. "Ultimately, he will."

Other GOP lawmakers argued Obama’s position is untenable. They cited polls showing voters believed that fiscal reforms should be part of any debt-ceiling deal. 

Obama has said that he won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling because its impact on the economy would be so devastating, and most economists believe that the effects of a default would be far worse than a government shutdown.

BoehnerJohn BoehnerRepublican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare The disorderly order of presidential succession MORE defended the debt package on Thursday against complaints from conservatives that the plan doesn't do enough on the spending side. 

“In this bill, we have spending cuts and we have issues that will help spur more economic growth. We think the balance is correct,” he said.

Republicans have, for more than a week, discussed a plan that would allow a yearlong increase in the debt ceiling in exchange for a list of priorities, many of which are nonstarters among Democrats and the president. The Treasury Department this week said Congress should raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 17 to ensure the government can pay its bills.

To bolster leadership’s argument, Rep. Kevin BradyKevin BradyUS wins aerospace subsidies trade case over the EU Republican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Congress must pass Sunset the Tax Code bill before election MORE (R-Texas), the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, released a study on Thursday arguing that concentrating on growing the economy would play a key role in getting America’s books in order.

The GOP’s wish list includes approval of the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline, instructions for tax reform and the ObamaCare delay.

The House leadership plan, according to a copy circulated on Wednesday, also seeks to roll back a number of federal regulations, increase energy production both onshore and offshore and take aim at the Dodd-Frank overhaul of the financial system.

—This story was posted at 4:23 and last updated at 5:44 p.m.

— Molly K. Hooper and Peter Schroeder contributed to this story.