Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is cautiously optimistic that enough GOP members had fallen in line over the last 48 hours to pass his debt bill. The plan would cut nearly $917 billion in spending over the next ten years, raise the debt-ceiling by $900 billion and avoid sending the nation into default.
While he didn't have the magical 217 Republicans votes as of yet, Boehner told his conference in a closed-door meeting Thursday that he is confident he would hit the threshold when the bill reached the floor Thursday evening, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting.
Key Republicans who were previously leaning no or wavering announced a change of heart Thursday and are now supporting the measure, including Reps. Mike Pence (IN), Bob Goodlatte (VA), Walter Jones (NC) and Lynn Westmoreland (GA).
During the Thursday morning GOP conference meeting, every member who addressed the group spoke out in favor of Boehner's bill, unlike previous recent gatherings when the reviews were mixed. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) delivered a colorful rallying speech using the same language he was taught when he was a football player at Notre Dame. Kelly unveiled a sign with the words: "Play Like a Champion."
He recalled the phrase his Notre Dame football team recited before each game: "Put on your helmut, buckle your strap, run onto the field and beat the shit out of 'em."
Many of the members who changed their minds, including Pence, did so after House GOP leaders scheduled two votes on different versions of a balanced-budget amendment for late this week. Republicans are offering one of the balanced-budget amendments specifically to attract more conservative Democratic support.
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) emerged from the meeting expressing his reluctant support for the bill and warning the Senate to pass it because the bill is as far as House Republicans are willing to go.
"I'd like it to go further but I think this is the best we'll be able to do under these circumstances," he told reporters. "If the Senate doesn't go along with this then there is something wrong with the Senate."
Despite Chabot's urging, the Senate is expected to stop Boehner's bill in its tracks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) released a letter Wednesday night signed by 51 Democrats and two independents stating their solid opposition to the measure. With both sides deeply entrenched, there is no clear path for the two chambers to forge a compromise with the window of opportunity rapidly closing to meet the Aug. 2 deadline.
Nevertheless, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said the mood in the room Thursday morning had shifted and was far more positive than previous days and weeks. He also said Boehner's body language exuded more confidence.
Pence, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said he signed onto the bill after Boehner called him Wednesday night and let him know he would bring a so-called clean Balanced Budget Amendment to the floor this week.
"We have an opportunity to cut spending significantly tonight," Pence said, "and we'll have an opportunity to make history tomorrow" with a vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment.
The bill is scheduled to hit the House floor for a vote by 6 p.m., after the financial markets closed.
House Republican leaders released a revised debt-reduction bill Wednesday evening after being forced to rewrite the bill so it complies with a promise from Boehner to produce more spending cuts than new borrowing authority.
The new Boehner bill will cut the deficit $917 billion over ten years and raises the debt limit $900 billion, a net cost savings of $17 billion, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis. In the next year along, fiscal year 2012, the bill would cut $22 billion in spending.
Boehner and company were forced back to the drawing board Tuesday after the CBO estimated his bill cut only $850 billion over 10 years, not the $1.2 trillion he had projected.