WASHINGTON — A frantic day of legislative maneuvering ended in futility for Speaker John A. Boehner on Tuesday, as the most conservative members of the House refused to back his proposed compromise to end the standoff over the federal budget.
The failure leaves a bipartisan Senate plan negotiated by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as the sole way out of a stalemate that risks a U.S. default on its bills and huge economic disruptions.
A bill that passed the Senate would receive Democratic support in the House, guaranteeing a majority if Boehner were willing to bring it to the floor even without the backing of most Republicans. He is widely expected to do so, however, having run out of time for other options.
Earlier in the day, Boehner reiterated that he opposed allowing the government to risk default.
"I have made clear for months and months that the idea of default is wrong, and we shouldn't get anywhere close to it," he said.
Shortly after House leaders officially called off a vote on their most recent plan, spokesmen for Reid and McConnell said Senate talks were resuming. They had paused for the day to allow Boehner (R-Ohio) a chance to get a bill through the House.
The two leaders are "very close" to a deal, a top Senate aide said.
Senate aides said the agreement would extend the Treasury's authority to borrow money through Feb. 7 and end the government shutdown, providing federal agencies with funds through Jan. 15. In the meantime, congressional negotiators would try to work out a longer-term budget solution.
The plan would make no significant changes in President Obama's healthcare law. Democrats were expected to drop a proposal to repeal a new tax on insurance plans that is opposed by some unions. The agreement also would direct officials to confirm that people receiving insurance subsidies under the law were eligible for them, something Democrats say the law already requires.
Fitch Ratings on Tuesday put the government's AAA credit rating on watch for a potential downgrade because of the standoff. The company said that it believed the federal debt limit would be raised soon but that "political brinkmanship" was risking a default.
Treasury officials have said they cannot guarantee having enough money to pay all the government's bills after Thursday. If the debt limit is not lifted, "the Treasury would still have limited capacity to make payments," Fitch said, but "it would be exposed to volatile revenue and expenditure flows."
"The U.S. risks being forced to incur widespread delays of payments to suppliers and employees, as well as Social Security payments to citizens — all of which would damage the perception of U.S. sovereign creditworthiness and the economy," the agency added.
Reid and White House officials sharply criticized Boehner's tactics during the course of the day. But despite the rhetoric, Boehner already had accepted much of the framework of the Senate deal. Behind the scenes, McConnell and Boehner worked to coordinate procedural steps that could allow a House-passed bill to be rapidly amended and moved through the Senate.
Senators had indicated, however, they would wait only a day to see whether the House could muster a majority.
When the House effort collapsed, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors said he wasn't surprised. "We were never really sure what they were up to," he said.
In a WABC television interview Tuesday, Obama said White House officials had seen in the past that Boehner "can't control his caucus."
With nearly all House Democrats united in opposition to Boehner's proposal, he could afford to lose only about 15 Republicans. The speaker and his leadership team struggled to come up with a plan that could win conservative support. Throughout the day, members walked in and out of leadership offices, discussing options.