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GOP may roll out debt ceiling plan before August

May 17, 2013
POLITICO
Jake Sherman

The House Republican leadership is considering releasing its debt ceiling plan before the August recess so lawmakers can actively sell it to their constituents.

The idea gained traction in a closed meeting of the House Republican Conference this week, where the main topic was how the party should craft a plan to raise the nation’s debt cap.

Plans for the legislation are not finalized, but the outlines of a measure are beginning to take shape. In addition to hiking the debt limit, the legislation is likely to have three categories: spending cuts, a framework for tax reform and what will be called a “jobs” element, which will include energy legislation, which would likely be a provision related to the Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans are aiming to put the bill on the floor soon after the summer recess.

President Barack Obama has said he won’t negotiate with Republicans over hiking the debt ceiling but has remained open to a larger deficit deal. In a series of conversations between Capitol Hill Democrats and the White House, Obama’s team has been firm that he would only accept a clean debt ceiling bill.

GOP leadership will soon begin meeting with small groups of lawmakers to gauge exactly what kind of package could win enough Republican votes for passage. This week’s meeting saw leadership taking copious notes about what the rank and file wanted to see in the bill. Allowing members to sell the plan would create momentum for it in a Democrat-dominated Washington.

Separately, conservative Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Tom Price of Georgia are trying to “refine” what they would like to see in the package. They’ll meet with Speaker John Boehner within the next few weeks to finalize a plan.

The idea of releasing legislation before the August recess is an important development for the House. It would — in essence — accelerate the debt ceiling debate by several months. The Congressional Budget Office this week said the nation would reach its borrowing limit in October or November. With Treasury’s extraordinary measures, aides say that deadline could slip to December — raising the specter of another year-end fight.

The effort is, in some ways, an attempt for Republicans to recapture their success from earlier this year, when they crafted legislation that made the debt ceiling hike almost a footnote. Republicans made that battle about forcing the Senate to pass a budget, not raising the debt limit, which allowed the bill to sail through the House.

The strategy here is the same.

Republicans say they’re trying to blunt opposition by allowing their members to go back to their districts and introduce the proposal over the monthlong summer break.

“I’d like to see us be able to unite around a plan that achieves the conservative results that we want to solve the spending problem, and then be able to go during the August recess and share that with our constituents and build a consensus across the country that we’ve got a plan that solves the spending problem, gets us to balance, gets our economy moving again and contrast that with the president who doesn’t have a plan at all, who’s just going to sit back and try to scare people, and that didn’t work for him during sequester because we actually laid out our plan,” said Scalise, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee.

The idea to sell their constituents on a debt hike — along with other conservative priorities — isn’t a completely foolproof plan. Republicans can go home and find that no one likes what they’re proposing. They could suffer politically, but then, they could get back to Washington and adjust.

Some would rather pass a debt ceiling agreement sooner.

“I’m a fan of doing stuff early rather than late because we get accused of the brinksmanship or management by crisis,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a member of the Budget Committee. “Sometimes that’s inevitable, but it’s not inevitable now.”

This plan doesn’t solve the lingering question as to whether Obama will engage in negotiations, or hope Republicans will fold. Most Republicans think he’s bluffing.

“Well, you know, it is easy to make a statement to that effect,” Boehner said Thursday. “But it is just not reality. The fact is, is that his Treasury Department needs to pay the bills. The debt limit has to be dealt with and should be dealt with in a responsible way. And you can’t continue to increase the debt limit without doing something about what is driving the increase in the debt limit. And that is out-of-control spending.”

Republicans recall that Obama has moved significantly toward them on recent government funding and previous borrowing limit fights. Obama got what he wanted on the fiscal cliff deal.

“The president said he wasn’t going to sign ‘no budget, no pay,’” Jordan said, referring to the debt ceiling deal that helped force the Senate to pass a budget. “The president said sequester would never happen. The president said a whole bunch of things.”

If Obama does, in fact, stick to his plan and not negotiate over the debt ceiling, and Senate Democrats stay with him, the nation could go into default. That would be politically catastrophic for Republicans, and would shake the U.S. economy.

If Obama does negotiate, Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California will have to manage their members, who see that as perfect leverage against the Obama administration.

“If we got a little bit along the way, we should give a little bit of a debt ceiling increase,” Mulvaney said. “If we get further along the way, we get a bigger debt ceiling increase so that what we give is commensurate with what we get in return.”

 


 

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