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Congress

Republican Debt-Ceiling Strategy Emerges

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

photo of Billy House
February 4, 2014

House Republicans are considering resurrecting a strategy in the looming debt-ceiling face-off to force the Senate to vote on a number of separate initiatives, without making passage of those items a requirement for raising the nation's borrowing limit.

Under the plan, the House would vote on two or more measures, separately. One of those would permit raising the ceiling on the national debt, which now tops $17 trillion. The others would contain one or more items sought by Republicans in return, such as approval of the Keystone XL pipeline or repeal of the so-called risk-corridor provisions in the Affordable Care Act, which some call a bailout for insurance companies.

These multiple resolutions would be brought under a rule that allows the Senate to pass just the first measure as a "clean" debt-ceiling increase, but only after they vote on the other resolutions, which could contain measures that Republicans believe would be politically difficult for Democrats to reject.

 

Such a strategy was first floated last fall. Majority Leader Eric Cantor proposed a similar move as House conservatives were insisting on defunding or delaying Obamacare in return for a continuing resolution to keep government funded. But that strategy was rejected by conservatives as not providing enough real leverage. What resulted was a standoff that led to the government shutdown.

It remains to be seen which provisions are selected; Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and other GOP leaders plans to hold listening sessions with rank-and-file lawmakers to get a greater sense of what the conference wants.

Speaker John Boehner, following a closed-door House GOP conference meeting on Tuesday, did not indicate any time line yet for action on the Republican strategy. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the nation could run out of money to pay the nation's bills by the end of the month without added borrowing authority.

This time, however, Boehner and other top Republicans say they have no intention of pushing the debt-ceiling battle with the Senate far enough to threaten a default.

There's "a lot of opinions with how to deal with the debt limit; no decisions have been made," said Boehner.

But Boehner added, "Nobody wants to default on our debt." And he also said, "While we're doing this, we ought to do something on either jobs and the economy, about the drivers of our debt, and so we're talking to our members."

Other House Republicans said they have a number of items of initiatives they want to be included in such a legislative strategy, ranging from limits on Internal Revenue Service activities to delaying or eliminating the health law's so-called "belly button tax," a $63 levy on each person covered in a health plan to help pay for new customers on the government exchanges.

"I don't know how many things it will be. I know it's got to be some things that are focused on addressing the spending problem," said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

"In addition to mandatory spending--I'd like to see some things like the Full Faith and Credit Act, (and) stopping the IRS from going after groups that exercise their free speech rights to speak out against government spending; … a lot of other things," he said.

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