Democrats have stayed consistent for months: They'll give nothing in return for raising the debt ceiling. But they may have to rethink that position soon.
The latest House Republicans plan to increase the debt limit is via a bill that also rolls back cuts to military veterans' pensions, paying for it by adding an additional year of mandatory sequester cuts in 2024.
That means, if the plan passes the House, the Senate will have to decide what to do with a debt-ceiling increase that has something attached to it. And a number of Senate Democrats didn't shut the door on the possibility of voting for such a measure. Jack Reed of Rhode Island didn't rule it out; while saying the most important thing is to raise the debt ceiling, he'd have to wait to see what is in such a bill that included a rollback to the military cuts.
The Senate is considering a bill this week to reverse the $6 billion in cost-of-living cuts without a pay-for, with its prospects uncertain. The bill easily passed a procedural hurdle Monday, but Republicans want to offer amendments on how to pay for it. So far, such proposals have been political nonstarters.
Before the House GOP plan emerged in earnest, Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she was also in the wait-and-see category on any House-passed debt-ceiling increase. "We have to look at this, just like now we're trying to come to the floor on dealing with the military COLA," she said. "I can't comment until we see what the deal is."
Independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, said that adding on a vet' pension measure isn't a deal-breaker in and of itself. "I don't like the principle of attaching things, but if they attach something that's good, that everyone can agree on, I'll certainly consider it," he said.
When asked if he would only vote for a clean debt-limit increase, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said, "it would be my desire to vote only on a debt limit, up or down."
The House Republican plan emerged from a closed-door meeting Monday night, which Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray criticized before it even broke out, as she advocates for a debt limit clean increase: "Republican leaders shouldn't need another meeting to figure out that debt-limit brinkmanship doesn't work, because they are even hearing from their own tea-party members that they should give up and walk back the ransom demands," Murray said in a statement.
House Republican leadership had been looking for a way to move a debt-ceiling increase through their chamber for well over a week. "They've gone through a new idea every few days, so we'll see what they end up sending over, but Democrats have been clear that there will be no ransom paid to allow the federal government to pay its bills and avoid a crisis," one Senate Democratic aide offered.
White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked Monday about the possible House Republican plan. "We're not going to pay a ransom of any kind in return for Congress doing its job," he responded.
Democrats have been successful in holding the line against considering anything short of a clean debt-limit vote, but if the Senate fails to reach an agreement on how to reverse the military cuts that so many people on both sides of the aisle don't like, they may feel some pressure to consider what the House sends over. A senior Republican House aide did not expect the Senate to send a clean debt ceiling increase back to the House.
"There's a lot of principles here," Mikulski said, later adding, "On principle, I'm flexible."
This story has been updated for clarity.