House Republicans are planning a short-term debt-limit increase that will last six weeks without asking for any specific policy concessions in return, a plan that was panned by some conservatives but seems to have majority support within the conference.
The only condition of passing the bill, lawmakers said following Thursday morning's GOP conference meeting, is getting a verbal agreement from President Obama to appoint budget conferees for a working group that will negotiate long-term fiscal issues during that six-week period. House leadership is meeting with Obama at the White House on Thursday afternoon to discuss the plan.
"What we want to do is offer the president today the ability to move a temporary increase in the debt ceiling, an agreement to go to conference on the budget, for his willingness to sit down and discuss with us a way forward to reopen the government and to start to deal with America's pressing problems," said Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
"And I would hope the president would look at this as an opportunity, and a good-faith effort on our part to move halfway — halfway to what he's demanded — in order to have these conversations begin," Boehner said.
There will be no specific language attached to the bill mandating any negotiating framework from the White House. "It's just a handshake," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La.
If Obama agrees, Republicans plan to bring the bill to the House floor as early as Friday or Saturday for a vote.
Many House Republicans in recent days have dismissed next Thursday's deadline for the nation reaching its borrowing limit as less than a real fiscal doomsday. But this week, pressure began to build from some of their traditional conservative allies outside of Congress, including the Heritage Foundation, to push for a debt-ceiling extension that will buy Republicans time to continuing fighting Obamacare in the battle over government funding.
The White House has made it known that Obama would sign the short-term increase if passed by the House. But an Obama administration official preempted the House plan Thursday morning with an email sent to reporters, saying Obama would only agree to fiscal negotiations once the debt limit is lifted and the government is reopened with a short-term funding bill.
Of course, whipping sufficient Republican support for a clean continuing resolution on top of a clean debt-limit extension would likely prove impossible, considering how some conservatives are already panning the debt-ceiling deal.
"I'm not very enthusiastic," Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said after learning of the GOP strategy.
Still, some conservatives praised Boehner for presenting the plan, which they framed as a "compromise" to bring Obama to the negotiating table.
"Most conservatives have said that they wouldn't vote for a clean debt ceiling, and we're saying we'll give him a clean debt ceiling for six weeks so he can negotiate on the issues dealing with the debt," said Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho. "But when it comes to the continuing resolution — to the issues dealing with Obamacare — we're going to continue to hold out ground."
Many House Republicans have sworn never to support a clean debt-ceiling extension, no matter the length, because of the precedent it would set. But some members argued that because the plan won't be voted on until Obama agrees to negotiating guidelines, it isn't technically a "clean" increase.
"It only goes forward if the president agrees to appoint budget conferees, and agrees to come to the table to negotiate the reopening [of government] as well as a debt-ceiling solution," said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas. "I wouldn't term it 'clean.' "
The debt-limit extension would not directly address restarting government funding, or the ongoing shutdown. But top House Republican leaders were to meet on that topic later in the day Thursday.