Senate Democrats Open to a Debt Ceiling Bill That Isn’t Clean

The new House GOP plan isn’t dead yet in the Senate.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 29: U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is trailed by reporters while arriving for a markup of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence October 29, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee is also researching allegations of surveillance related to allied heads of state by the National Security Administration.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
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Elahe Izadi
Feb. 10, 2014, 2:45 p.m.

Demo­crats have stayed con­sist­ent for months: They’ll give noth­ing in re­turn for rais­ing the debt ceil­ing. But they may have to re­think that po­s­i­tion soon.

The latest House Re­pub­lic­ans plan to in­crease the debt lim­it is via a bill that also rolls back cuts to mil­it­ary vet­er­ans’ pen­sions, pay­ing for it by adding an ad­di­tion­al year of man­dat­ory se­quester cuts in 2024.

That means, if the plan passes the House, the Sen­ate will have to de­cide what to do with a debt-ceil­ing in­crease that has something at­tached to it. And a num­ber of Sen­ate Demo­crats didn’t shut the door on the pos­sib­il­ity of vot­ing for such a meas­ure. Jack Reed of Rhode Is­land didn’t rule it out; while say­ing the most im­port­ant thing is to raise the debt ceil­ing, he’d have to wait to see what is in such a bill that in­cluded a roll­back to the mil­it­ary cuts.

The Sen­ate is con­sid­er­ing a bill this week to re­verse the $6 bil­lion in cost-of-liv­ing cuts without a pay-for, with its pro­spects un­cer­tain. The bill eas­ily passed a pro­ced­ur­al hurdle Monday, but Re­pub­lic­ans want to of­fer amend­ments on how to pay for it. So far, such pro­pos­als have been polit­ic­al non­starters.

Be­fore the House GOP plan emerged in earn­est, Demo­crat­ic Sen. Bar­bara Mikul­ski, who chairs the Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee,  said she was also in the wait-and-see cat­egory on any House-passed debt-ceil­ing in­crease. “We have to look at this, just like now we’re try­ing to come to the floor on deal­ing with the mil­it­ary COLA,” she said. “I can’t com­ment un­til we see what the deal is.”

In­de­pend­ent Sen. An­gus King, who caucuses with Demo­crats, said that adding on a vet’ pen­sion meas­ure isn’t a deal-break­er in and of it­self. “I don’t like the prin­ciple of at­tach­ing things, but if they at­tach something that’s good, that every­one can agree on, I’ll cer­tainly con­sider it,” he said.

When asked if he would only vote for a clean debt-lim­it in­crease, Sen. Robert Men­en­dez, D-N.J., said, “it would be my de­sire to vote only on a debt lim­it, up or down.”

The House Re­pub­lic­an plan emerged from a closed-door meet­ing Monday night, which Sen­ate Budget Chair Patty Mur­ray cri­ti­cized be­fore it even broke out, as she ad­voc­ates for a debt lim­it clean in­crease: “Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers shouldn’t need an­oth­er meet­ing to fig­ure out that debt-lim­it brink­man­ship doesn’t work, be­cause they are even hear­ing from their own tea-party mem­bers that they should give up and walk back the ransom de­mands,” Mur­ray said in a state­ment.

House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship had been look­ing for a way to move a debt-ceil­ing in­crease through their cham­ber for well over a week. “They’ve gone through a new idea every few days, so we’ll see what they end up send­ing over, but Demo­crats have been clear that there will be no ransom paid to al­low the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to pay its bills and avoid a crisis,” one Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide offered.

White House spokes­man Jay Car­ney was asked Monday about the pos­sible House Re­pub­lic­an plan. “We’re not go­ing to pay a ransom of any kind in re­turn for Con­gress do­ing its job,” he re­spon­ded.

Demo­crats have been suc­cess­ful in hold­ing the line against con­sid­er­ing any­thing short of a clean debt-lim­it vote, but if the Sen­ate fails to reach an agree­ment on how to re­verse the mil­it­ary cuts that so many people on both sides of the aisle don’t like, they may feel some pres­sure to con­sider what the House sends over. A seni­or Re­pub­lic­an House aide did not ex­pect the Sen­ate to send a clean debt ceil­ing in­crease back to the House.

“There’s a lot of prin­ciples here,” Mikul­ski said, later adding, “On prin­ciple, I’m flex­ible.”

This story has been up­dated for clar­ity.

Sarah Mimms and Stacy Kaper contributed to this article.
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