House to Vote on Republican Debt Plan
WASHINGTON -- The GOP-controlled House of Representatives is set to vote Thursday on Speaker John Boehner's plan to raise the nation's debt ceiling while enacting sweeping cuts in government spending -- the latest attempt to avoid an unprecedented national default and stave off potential economic catastrophe.

Some Republicans have said this will be their last, best proposal. Senate Democrats warn the plan is dead on arrival on their side of Capitol Hill even if it passes the House.

"There are things that either side cannot get," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Thursday morning. Republicans need to "accept that and move on." Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, called Boehner's proposal "a futile gesture."

Reid later announced that the Senate is prepared to immediately vote on -- and defeat -- the speaker's plan Thursday night, assuming the House approves it.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called it "inconceivable" that Democrats "would actually block the only bill that could get through the House ... and prevent a default right now."

"Democrats are playing with fire here, and it's hard to conclude that they're doing it for any other reason than politics," McConnell said.

The vote in the House is scheduled for roughly 6 p.m. ET. Few if any Democrats are expected to back the measure. Assuming House Democrats remain united against the bill, Boehner will need the support of at least 216 of the House's 240 Republicans.

Whether Boehner can reach that mark remains an open question. Tea party-backed conservatives staged a virtual revolt against the bill over the past two days, complaining that it doesn't do enough to shrink the size of government and stem the tide of Washington's red ink.

Addressing a closed-door meeting of the entire House GOP caucus on Wednesday, Boehner told his fellow Republicans to "get your ass in line." Numerous political analysts argue that a defeat of Boehner's bill will empower Reid, who has proposed his own deficit reduction plan.

Regardless, some conservatives insist they won't back the Boehner plan. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Georgia, told CNN Thursday morning he's not on board.

"I love my speaker (but) we just keep spending," Gingrey complained. A balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is "the only way we can constrain ourselves," he insisted.

But one of the GOP's party elders, Arizona Sen. John McCain, argued Wednesday that it's "worse than foolish" to suggest the current Congress will pass such an amendment. It's "bizarro," McCain said.

As the political maneuvering continues, the clock continues to tick down. If Congress fails to raise the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2, Americans could face rising interest rates and a declining dollar, among other problems.

As the cost of borrowing rises, individual mortgages, car loans and student loans could become significantly more expensive. Some financial experts have warned of a downgrade of America's triple-A credit rating and a potential stock market plunge. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell nearly 200 points on Wednesday.

Without an increase in the debt limit, the federal government will not be able to pay all of its bills next month. President Barack Obama recently indicated he can't guarantee Social Security checks will be mailed out on time.

Leaders of both parties now agree that any deal to raise the debt ceiling should include long-term spending reductions to help control spiraling deficits. But they differ sharply on both the nature and timetable of the cuts. Republicans are seeking another vote on the debt ceiling before the 2012 election; Democrats call the demand a political non-starter and economically destabilizing.

The Boehner and Reid plans both suffered setbacks earlier this week when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released reports concluding that they fell short of their stated deficit reduction goals.

Specifically, the CBO concluded that Boehner's plan would cut spending by $850 billion rather than the $1.2 trillion proponents claimed it would save, and below the $900 billion increase in the debt ceiling included in the measure.

Boehner has since revised his plan, and the CBO now estimates it would generate a total of $917 billion in savings over the next decade, an increase of about $65 billion over the initial version.