WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Thursday said Republicans are weighing whether to go along with a short-term debt-limit extension, an approach he said would enable the House to negotiate with President Obama and the Democratic-led Senate in March on a broader plan to tackle the nation’s fiscal problems.
“We’re discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt-limit extension so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and White House involved in discussions in March,” said Ryan.
Ryan made his remarks while giving reporters a general rundown of the private talks on spending and budget issues that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and rank-and-file House Republicans were holding in a nearby building here, part of their three-day annual issues and policy retreat.
Some congressional Republicans have been suggesting they should go to the lengths of using a possible shutdown of government as leverage in the fight over increasing the nation’s borrowing limit, unless they get the spending cuts they seek.
But Ryan seemed Thursday to be signaling that a softer GOP approach may be in the works.
He said the reasoning is that the goal is to make “progress” on getting the nation’s debt and deficit under control, and a two-way discussion between Republicans and Democrats is needed.
He provided no further details of a short-term debt-limit extension Republicans might go along with, saying that it was one of only a number of options for proceeding on the various fiscal issues ahead that were being discussed.
The country hit the legal limit on its borrowing on Dec. 31, but Treasury will be able to manage the government’s payments through so-called “extraordinary measures.” But the government is likely to exhaust its ability to use those steps as early as Feb. 15, or as late as March 1. A default could lead to a downgrade of the country’s credit rating and throw financial markets into chaos.
While Republicans want to use the debt-limit fight to force spending cuts, Obama is taking a tough line, accusing the GOP of putting the full faith and credit of the United States on the line and saying he will not negotiate over the issue.
What Ryan appeared to be suggesting is that House Republicans now are weighing whether to allow a short-term extension, in order to pursue a broader agreement on spending. Congress also must deal with the sequestration cuts in March, another measure to keep government funded when the current stopgap spending bill expires March 27.
Ryan said of the discussions at the retreat on Thursday morning, “Our goal is to make sure our members understand all the deadlines that are coming, all the consequences of those deadlines that are coming, in order so that we can make a better informed decision on how to move and how to proceed.”
And as part of that, he said, “We also have to recognize the realities of the divided government we have … the divided government moment we have.”
In the end, Ryan said, House Republicans think the important thing is to make progress on the spending and budget issue, and that, “We think that the worst thing for the economy is for this Congress and this administration to do nothing to get debt and deficits under control.”
“What our colleagues want to do is make sure we make progress on this issue,” he said.