Politics

Boehner Issues Blunt Warning to Dissenters to Back Plan

Philip Scott Andrews/The New York Times

John A. Boehner, the Speaker of the House, walked to a meeting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

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WASHINGTON — Republicans and Senate Democrats fine-tuned their competing plans for resolving the looming fiscal crisis Wednesday, with an increasing number of House members yielding to Speaker John Boehner’s blunt command to line up behind his bill even as his staff frantically moved to alter it. Congressional leaders alternately voiced optimism, determination and a haggard frustration as they struggled to make both the dollars and the votes add up.

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The Congressional Budget Office, which last night forced the Republican leaders back to the drawing board by ruling that their plan fell short of their promises, told the Democratic side in the Senate that its approach, including savings claimed from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, would produce $2.2 trillion in savings over 10 years — enough, if the Republicans would accept the assumptions, to raise the debt ceiling for long enough to avoid replaying the standoff next year in the middle of the 2012 election campaign.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said that with modest “tweaking” his proposal could now form the basis of a “true compromise,” but House Republicans seemed to be solidifying their own position.

Members of the House Republican caucus said after a morning meeting that Mr. Boehner opened by urging the rank and file to “get your ass in line,” but then listened as many of them voiced lingering concerns.

Insisting to members that their bill, rather than the one offered by Senate Democrats, was the path to an agreement, Mr. Boehner added: “This is the bill. I can’t do this job unless you’re behind me,” recalled people who attended the meeting.

Some who opposed his proposal suggested they might change their minds.

“We’ve got this back and forth between have we cut enough, how much have we cut, how do we get a long-term solution on this.” said Representative James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma. “I like tea sweet enough to stand the spoon up in it,” he said. “This is not super sweet tea. But it is not unsweetened, either.”

Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, though, who remains opposed, said he would like to see more of the savings in the early years.

“This may be the last train leaving the station,” he said. “That certainly weighs on people’s minds.” But he added, “A lot of us recognize the most meaningful part of an agreement is what you’re willing to do immediately.”

Amid the bickering and tinkering, it was hard to see how a compromise might be reached in a matter of days.

“I think we’re going to solve this,” Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the assistant Democratic leader, said on NBC’s “Today” show. But he called the latest delay “a bitter lesson” and accused the Republican leadership, which had offered a plan that fell short in dollars and in the House whip count, of bluffing “with other people’s chips.”

“What we’re facing here is a Republican caucus that is basically showing its political bravery by giving up Medicare benefits for elderly people, by increasing the cost of student loans for working families, by cutting money for medical research,” he said.

Mr. Boehner’s troubles piled up late Tuesday afternoon when the Congressional Budget Office said his plan would cut spending by $850 billion during the next decade — about $150 billion less than the $1 trillion increase proposed for the debt ceiling.

On Tuesday morning, the budget office published its verdict on the competing plan offered, but not yet scheduled for a vote, by Senator Reid.

It would save $2.2 trillion over 10 years, less than the $2.7 trillion that the Democrats had claimed. Even discounting the savings allowed from the costs of the wars (about $1.04 trillion) and savings on interest as borrowing declines (about $250 billion), that would mean $900 billion in savings in a side-by-side comparison with the Republicans’ $850 billion as tallied by the budget office.

The scoring was better news for Mr. Reid than for Mr. Boehner, who quickly retreated from his bill once the budget office scored it on Tuesday night and was preparing to huddle with his caucus on Wednesday morning instead of moving to a vote on the floor.

House Republican leaders were forced on Tuesday night to delay a vote scheduled on their plan to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, as conservative lawmakers expressed skepticism and Mr. Boehner said he would come up with more cuts to satisfy the scorekeepers at the nonpartisan budget office.

The scramble to come up with a plan that could be put to a vote, now moved from Wednesday to Thursday, represents a test of Mr. Boehner’s ability to lead his restive caucus. The expected showdown over the legislation is the culmination of months of efforts by Tea Party-allied freshmen and fellow conservatives to demand a fundamentally smaller government in exchange for raising the federal borrowing limit.

An earlier version of this article misidentified Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona as Floyd Flake.

Sarah Wheaton, Jada F. Smith and Jackie Calmes contributed reporting.

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