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Republicans may call first debt ceiling vote on Wednesday

WASHINGTON--The U.S. House of Representatives may hold a vote Wednesday on the debt ceiling, according to several Republican lawmakers, as the Feb. 27 deadline before a potential U.S. default looms.

House Republicans Monday met behind closed doors to discuss a proposal that would permit the U.S. Treasury to continue borrowing until the end of March next year, according to several congressmen who spoke to reporters.

The official debt ceiling was reinstated late Friday at the current borrowing level — nearly US$17.3 trillion — as Congress and the White House squared off in the newest battle that could, for the fourth time in three years, push the U.S. close to a default.

The Treasury says it can make do until Feb. 27, leaving nearly three weeks for Congress to find a compromise — but less time remains than may seem, because after Wednesday, the House adjourns until Feb. 25.

Republicans Monday indicated they would demand a concession in exchange for voting to suspend the debt limit: the cancellation of a budget measure approved in December that slows the pace of raises in military pensions for certain retirees.

Other options were also envisioned.

Leaders did not officially confirm a vote would be held Wednesday, and they seemed to want first to gauge support for the plan among Republicans more widely.

“We'll work towards a resolution this week,” was all House majority leader Eric Cantor said.

The U.S. right-wing party seemed very divided between moderates and conservatives, recalling the struggles during the last battle over the debt ceiling in October.

“There aren't 218 votes. That's pretty clear,” predicted Republican lawmaker Mo Brooks, who insisted many conservatives wanted debt-reduction measures.

“It's going to be a tough vote no matter how you slice it,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, also a Republican.

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