WASHINGTON -- With House Republican leadership scrambling for votes to save a now stalled debt-ceiling bill, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has not yet reached out to his Democratic colleagues, either to ask for votes or, more significantly, to revise the bill.
Two Democratic leadership aides confirmed that neither House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nor House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) had been contacted by Boehner's office since formal debate started on the speaker's debt-ceiling bill Thursday afternoon. Boehner's office, which pulled the bill after the necessary votes didn't materialize Thursday evening, did not dispute that communication with Democratic leadership has been non-existent.
That lack of outreach on the current Boehner bill doesn't mean much. Democratic leadership has insisted that not a single member of their caucus will vote for the legislation as it stands. But with the bill falling anywhere between five and 12 votes short of passage, and with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) non-committal about bringing it up again, pressure is mounting for Boehner to tinker with the legislation and win Democratic support.
"Since it's obvious Speaker Boehner can't get the votes from his own members, you'd think he would reach out to Democrats to see what changes can be made so that something can pass in a bipartisan way," said a Democratic leadership aide. "Just goes to show how completely partisan they're being right now."
There is, of course, some difficult political arithmetic for Boehner to confront. His current bill -- which would cut $915 billion in spending over 10 years, but force a second vote on raising the debt ceiling around the end of 2011 -- lacks the 216 votes in the House needed for passage, but the majority of his party still backs the measure. If Boehner were to drop the second debt ceiling vote -- thereby moving the language of his bill closer to the debt-ceiling bill put together by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- he'd pick up Democrats but lose his own members. If he were to pursue steeper cuts (including those to Pell Grants) he'd alienate Democrats even further but, potentially, win over some recalcitrant Republicans.
But more important than the toughness of the political arithmetic is the lack of political diplomacy. The fact that Boehner has yet to have discussions with Pelosi or Hoyer, even with the debt-ceiling deadline days away on Aug. 2, underscores just how much sorting out remains in the debate.