Republican Debt-Ceiling Strategy Emerges

US House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill.
National Journal
Billy House
Feb. 4, 2014, 6:30 a.m.

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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