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Debt limit vote postponed

Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON -- The endgame at hand, House Republicans struggled Thursday to pass legislation to prevent a looming government default while slicing nearly $1 trillion from federal spending. Senate Democrats pledged to scuttle the bill -- if it got to them -- in hopes of forcing a final compromise.

As afternoon debate headed toward evening, GOP leaders ordered an unexplained halt on the measure and Speaker John Boehner summoned a string of recalcitrant rank-and-file Republicans to his office.

Asked what he and Boehner had talked about, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said, ''I think that's rather obvious. There's negotiations going on.''

Another Republican, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, said he was unhappy Boehner had jettisoned a requirement contained in earlier legislation for Congress to pass a constitutional balanced-budget amendment and send it to the states for ratification.

''Why are we negotiating with ourselves?'' he asked rhetorically.

It wasn't clear how long the delay might last, although a spokesman for Boehner said the vote was still expected to take place later in the evening.

The White House quickly taunted Boehner's Republicans.

''Clock ticks towards Aug. 2, House is naming post offices, while leaders twist arms for a pointless vote. No wonder people hate Washington,'' White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer tweeted.

Earlier, Boehner had exuded optimism.

''Let's pass this bill and end the crisis,'' said the president's principal Republican antagonist in a new and contentious era of divided government. ''It raises the debt limit and cuts government spending by a larger amount.''

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the measure, and in debate on the House floor, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida savaged it as a ''Republican plan for default.'' She said the GOP hoped to ''hold our economy hostage while forcing an ideological agenda'' on the country.

Despite the sharp rhetoric, there were signs that gridlock might be giving way.

''Around here you've got to have deadlock before you have breakthrough,'' said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. ''We're at that stage now.''

Wall Street suffered fresh losses as Congress struggled to break its long gridlock. The Dow Jones industrial average was down for a fifth straight session.

The Treasury Department moved ahead with plans to hold its regular weekly auction of three-month and six-month securities on Monday. Yet officials offered no information on what steps would be taken if Congress failed to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit by the following day.