The fight over the debt ceiling has begun in earnest.
Just hours after House Republicans emerged from a strategy session in the recesses of the Capitol, where they discussed concessions they'd like to see the White House and Senate Democrats agree to, Senate Democratic leaders unpackaged their preformulated responses and shot down any such suggestion.
"Let me be clear: We cannot and will not play games with the full faith and credit of our country," Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "We can't again have to worry about hostage-takers, if that's what they want."
After largely staying on the sidelines in recent weeks, House Republicans have now officially joined the debate over hiking the more-than-$17 trillion debt ceiling. In response to Democrats' refusal to negotiate on the nation's debt limit — a stance that served them well during the showdown in the fall — GOP House members are considering a strategy that would force the Senate into a series of unpopular votes.
"Look, if this is about ass covering — I get it," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a member of the House Rules Committee. "If they want to throw a little red meat out to their constituents by forcing votes on things that won't pass, that's fine — as long as they don't hold things up. It's when they do that, drawing things out, that there are problems."
The House strategy, which is still evolving, may involve forcing the Senate to vote on a number of Republican initiatives, but without making passage of those measures a requirement for raising the nation's borrowing limit.
Under the plan, the House would vote separately on two or more measures. One of those would permit raising the ceiling on the national debt. The others would contain items sought by Republicans, 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 the first measure as a "clean" debt-ceiling increase, but only after senators vote on the other resolutions, which could contain measures that Republicans believe would be politically difficult for Democrats to reject.
Reid did not address any of the specific measures, other than to dismiss the notion of passing anything but a clean extension.
But Democrats did seize upon a Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday that said the risk-corridor provisions would bring in $8 billion for the federal government. Repealing them, Democrats argue, would only increase the deficit.
"It's a reminder that Republicans are so desperate to attack the Affordable Care Act that they will do or say just about anything, including throwing their own supposed principles on debt reduction under the bus," Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray said in a statement.
The House strategy to tie a debt-ceiling resolution under one rule with another bill was floated last fall. House 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.
That strategy was rejected by conservatives as not providing enough real leverage to force Democrats to abandon their resistance to the GOP's Obamacare efforts. What resulted was a standoff that led to the government shutdown.
But Republican officials say that same strategy could be well suited to the current climate, in which Republicans are clearly not interested in a major showdown. As one House Republican put it, "There's been an educational curve."