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US debt ceiling talks in limbo

WASHINGTON  (AFP) – House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday he had “no decisions about what exactly he will do” after a Republican plan to end the US debt-ceiling showdown was rejected by the White House.

House Republican leaders unveiled an 11th-hour plan even as bipartisan negotiations appeared to be progressing in the Senate, throwing into disarray the efforts to end a two-week-old government shutdown and extend US borrowing authority into next year.

Lawmakers emerged from a two-hour Republican caucus meeting to say the chamber would vote on the measure Tuesday, but Boehner was less sanguine.

“There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go. There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do,” a stone-faced Boehner told reporters after emerging from a two-hour meeting with his caucus.

“We’re going to continue to work with our members on both sides of the aisle to try to make sure that there’s no issue of default and to get our government re-open.”

Many federal agencies have been shuttered for two weeks since Congress failed to agree a budget for the new fiscal year, and the US Treasury has warned it will could hit its debt ceiling any time from Thursday.

With that crucial deadline looming, the impasse that appeared surmountable on Monday was suddenly a very steep road, with the White House and Democrats blasting the House plan as unworkable and extreme.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has held days of face-to-face negotiations with his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell, declared the House measure dead in the water.

“Let’s be clear: the House legislation will not pass the Senate,” Reid said.

“I know I speak for many of us who have been working in good faith when I say that we felt blindsided by the news from the House,” Reid said.

“Extremist Republicans in the House of Representatives are attempting to torpedo the Senate’s bipartisan progress.”

Like the Senate proposal being worked through, the House Republican plan would fund government through January 15 while extending the debt ceiling to February 7.

But it also includes provisions aimed at chipping away at President Barack Obama’s health care law, including one delaying for two years a medical device tax that helps fund the reforms.

And it would remove a president’s long-held authority to use “extraordinary measures” that extend the time that Treasury can keep paying the nation’s bills after the US bumps up against its borrowing limit.

“A deal on a date should be a deal on a date, not a deal on a date that the president can move up or back at his discretion,” congressman Darrell Issa said.

Some Republicans emerged form their caucus meeting — where lawmakers sang the Christian hymn “Amazing Grace” before discussing the plan — optimistic that the House measure could pass both chambers, but a few moderates were not so sure.

Congressman Charlie Dent said he would vote for the House bill, but “I don’t know if the votes are there to pass this.”

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