House Speaker John Boehner’s push to raise the debt limit temporarily to gain leverage in the coming debt fight is gaining momentum ahead of a critical Wednesday vote, with potential conservative opponents both inside and outside the conference divided.
In a boost for Boehner, the Club for Growth, the powerful anti-spending group, said Tuesday that it would remain neutral on the bill. The announcement came as six of the GOP conference’s most hardline conservatives gathered for a conversation in the Rayburn House Office Building over Chick-Fil-A sandwiches to discuss how they should proceed. They were split.
Only one of the lawmakers—Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., one of Boehner's most outspoken critics—declared himself a definitive "no" vote. But even he predicted he would lose this battle after the meeting. “Political reality looks like it will pass,” Huelskamp told National Journal.
The full GOP conference will gather later Tuesday afternoon to discuss the debt-limit vote, and the leadership remains confident. “The outside groups have not whipped up a frenzy,” a House Republican leadership aide said. “The Republican conference has gained sophistication, recognizing there are long-term plays.”
Still, some traps remain.
The six Republicans gathered in Rayburn said that during and after the party's retreat in Williamsburg, Va., last week, the GOP leadership had promised them that House Republicans would pursue a federal budget that would be balanced in 10 years. Such a budget would require far more draconian cuts than even House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has pursued and would mark a renewed hard line on spending reductions.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a conservative who was among those who voted against Boehner for speaker, said at the Rayburn meeting that he was giving the leadership the benefit of the doubt and would support Boehner’s bill to push the debt limit off until May, in part because of the promised push for a 10-year balanced budget.
“I want to move the world quickly but I’m also willing to move it in inches,” Labrador said. He predicted the debt-limit bill would pass Wednesday.
On Friday, when Boehner and the rest of the GOP leadership announced their plan to push off the debt limit by several months, they all spoke of forcing the Senate to pass a budget or forfeit pay. They didn’t all speak about a new 10-year budget blueprint. That job fell to a joint statement from three former chairmen and the current chairman of the Republican Study Committee. “As part of agreement, the House will work to put the country on the path to a balanced budget in 10 years,” said the statement from Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Tom Price of Georgia, and Jeb Hensarling of Texas.
Some conservatives want to hear that from the lips of the leaders themselves—and not behind closed doors but in front of rolling television cameras.
While the Club for Growth is neutral on Boehner’s debt-limit bill, Freedomworks, which fashions itself as a tea-party group, has lined up in opposition.
Heritage Action for America, a third major conservative pressure group, has withheld judgment so far. In a statement on Friday, Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said the group was encouraged by news that the House GOP would pursue a 10-year balanced budget but sought public assurance from the GOP leaders themselves. “Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader [Eric] Cantor, and the rest of House leadership need to publicly honor this agreement,” Needham said.
Boehner, Cantor, and the GOP leaders are set to hold a press conference after the conference’s meeting early Tuesday evening.