Debt Debate Drags On As Reid Seeks Republican Votes

House Republicans struck a partly symbolic blow against the debt plan of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) by voting it down Saturday afternoon. It’s partly symbolic because the vote happened before the Senate moved on the bill, so it’s possible a slightly fiddled version can pass that chamber later and then return to the House.

However, it’s not a hopeful sign for Reid, who has been summoned to the White House for urgent discussions on the matter.The House vote was highly partisan, with a final vote of 236 opposing, and 173 in favor.

Moments before the vote, Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) warned that the Democrats’ language was bordering on offensive. That came in response to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) saying that House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) had thrown away the chance for bipartisanship and gone to “the dark side” by pushing a bill that would fail in the Senate, thus edging the country closer to default.

As it stands right now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn’t have the votes to move his plan to raise the debt ceiling in the Senate today. In a letter announced on the Senate floor by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Saturday afternoon, 43 Republicans refused to support the plan, leaving Reid three votes short of the 60 he needs to achieve cloture.

If the Reid plan is to pass and hit the House for a vote that could conceivably get the final bill on the President’s desk before the default deadline expires, then Reid ideally needs a successful vote by around 1am on Sunday morning. Either that, or to be allowed to proceed with the vote on the basis of a simple majority. Currently the Republicans are demanding it be done as a 60 vote super-majority.

This letter means that vote would currently fail. McConnell suggested that the whole process start over following that event, calling on President Obama to once again engage in direct negotiations to get the debt ceiling raised.

However, the Republicans are not wholly united on this issue, and Reid still hopes to win some waverers in the hours ahead. Four moderates — Sens. Scott Brown (MA), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME) and Olympia Snowe (MA) — did not sign the letter. Yesterday, Brown said he’d be willing to vote for Reid’s plan as is. Reid would need three more votes to pass, and he may try to do that in the hours ahead via tweaks to his proposal.