House Republicans remain committed to forcing negotiations with President Obama and Senate Democrats over a range of long-term fiscal issues, including the debt-ceiling and budget deficit. But they also are beginning to accept that for such talks to take place, they must first approve a short-term debt limit increase.
On Wednesday, Republicans sounded prepared to do precisely that.
In interviews with numerous GOP lawmakers, members spoke with confidence – and acceptance – of the fact that the House will soon approve a short-term deal to raise the debt-ceiling and force Democrats to the negotiating table.
Details are still being ironed out, House Republicans said, but they are on track to approve a debt-limit extension -- lasting between four and six weeks -- that would establish a framework for subsequent fiscal negotiations. Lawmakers said this short-term deal, which President Obama has promised would compel him to join comprehensive talks over long-term fiscal issues, could pass as soon as Friday.
"We aren't going to solve the long-term challenges in a week," said Rep. Tom Price of Georgia. "So if there's a solution to this ... it's a negotiated agreement to have a short-term debt-limit extension that gives the time to be able to solve the long-term challenges."
The particulars of this short-term proposal are in flux, as there are ongoing discussions within the conference regarding which provisions -- if any -- should be attached. Some members are pushing for commensurate spending cuts, though such a figure could be difficult to calculate. Others are advocating the inclusion of one, or multiple, mini-funding bills that have been passed through the House. A clutch of conservatives, meanwhile, are asking for language that would prioritize Treasury payments.
"We'd prefer a long-term deal," said Rep. Steve Scalise, chairman of the Republican Study Committee. "But if we need to do something short-term, we should have the corresponding reforms."
Still, with the debt-ceiling deadline looming next week, and markets warily watching Congress's every move, some GOP lawmakers are against attaching anything "objectionable" for fear the Senate would reject it. In fact, some conservatives are quietly whipping support for something being called the "four-plus-four" plan, which would simultaneously pass "clean" four-week versions of a continuing resolution and debt-limit increase. The proposal, which would establish binding guidelines for talks between House Republicans and the White House and Senate Democrats, is intriguing to some Republican lawmakers.
"If it was a month-long, and it held the president's feet to the fire to negotiate, I think that's something people would be willing to take a look at," said Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona.
But this proposal -- which is also attractive to some members because it would also reopen the government -- stands little chance of gaining majority support among Republicans, many of whom refuse to pass any clean debt-ceiling increase because of the precedent it would set. Several conservative members, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to offend their colleagues, flat-out dismissed the idea.
"That's never gonna happen," said one GOP lawmaker.
Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team have been meeting this week with rank-and-file members to build consensus and keep everyone on the same page. One of those members, speaking on condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the strategy of the conference, said the short-term extension has emerged as the "clear front-runner" and said he's hoping for a vote by week's end.
The hang-up, he said, is deciding exactly how long the extension should last – and which provisions could be included without starting another ping-pong match with the Senate.
Senior Republican aides cautioned that nothing has been settled ahead of GOP leadership's visit to the White House on Thursday. But with the Oct. 17 deadline drawing close, and Obama already ruling out negotiations with Republicans prior to the passage of a debt-limit extension, some kind of short-term deal appears to be a foregone conclusion – even if the details are far from finalized.
If Obama won't negotiate until after the debt-ceiling is raised, "then it's our responsibility to make sure that we don't default," said Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan. "And I think we're up to that."