Conservatives Divided Over GOP’s Short-Term Debt Plan

Factions are forming, with plenty of fence-sitters and default-deniers waiting for specific language on the proposal.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 19: U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) (3rd L) talks to, clockwise from lower left, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) prior to a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee March 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on 'The Release of Criminal Detainees by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): Policy or Politics?' 
National Journal
Tim Alberta
Oct. 10, 2013, 12:48 p.m.

Fac­tions are form­ing with­in the con­ser­vat­ive wing of the House GOP, with like-minded mem­bers split­ting over a pro­posed six-week ex­ten­sion of the debt lim­it — and plenty of oth­ers sit­ting on the fence.

In this morn­ing’s closed-door GOP con­fer­ence meet­ing, lines were drawn as con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers rose to ar­gue both sides of the pro­posed deal. Rep. Raul Lab­rador of Idaho emerged as the lead­ing ad­voc­ate for the pro­pos­al, ac­cord­ing to mul­tiple law­makers in at­tend­ance. On the oth­er side, Rep. Tim Huel­skamp of Kan­sas was per­haps the most out­spoken op­pon­ent.

At the heart of the dis­agree­ment is a long­stand­ing cov­en­ant among con­ser­vat­ives — re­it­er­ated yes­ter­day by Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee Chair­man Steve Scal­ise — that they should nev­er vote for a “clean” debt lim­it in­crease, re­gard­less of length or cir­cum­stance.

“We’d prefer a long-term deal,” Scal­ise said Wed­nes­day, when asked wheth­er con­ser­vat­ives would ap­prove a tem­por­ary debt lim­it in­crease. “But if we need to do something short-term, we should have the cor­res­pond­ing re­forms.”

For months, con­ser­vat­ives have ar­gued that something — any­thing — must be at­tached to a debt ceil­ing deal. Their primary tar­get has been man­dat­ory spend­ing; Re­pub­lic­ans spent the sum­mer months draft­ing a “menu” of en­ti­tle­ment re­forms to of­fer the White House in ex­change for vari­ous ex­ten­sions. With the White House des­per­ate to avoid de­fault, the think­ing went, Re­pub­lic­ans would have lever­age.

But the situ­ation is far more com­plic­ated than they foresaw. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is shuttered due to Re­pub­lic­an in­sist­ence on at­tach­ing an Af­ford­able Care Act delay to the fund­ing bill; at the same time, Con­gress is rap­idly ap­proach­ing next Thursday’s dead­line to raise the debt ceil­ing.

Pres­id­ent Obama is re­fus­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Re­pub­lic­ans un­til both crises are re­solved. Some House con­ser­vat­ives think he’s bluff­ing. That group, led by Lab­rador, is con­vinced that if they tem­por­ar­ily raise the debt ceil­ing — al­low­ing them to dig in deep­er on the shut­down — they will break Obama’s no-ne­go­ti­ation stance. If that hap­pens, they think, con­ces­sions could be won on Obama­care that would solve the fund­ing fight and re­open the gov­ern­ment. Mean­while, they would still have Obama at the ne­go­ti­at­ing table to dis­cuss a long-term debt-lim­it deal fea­tur­ing the cuts to en­ti­tle­ment spend­ing that they have long de­sired.

But without any bind­ing lan­guage in the House pro­pos­al, Obama could eas­ily agree to sign that short-term debt-lim­it deal be­fore turn­ing around and de­mand­ing that a fund­ing bill must also pass be­fore ne­go­ti­ations be­gin. Should that hap­pen, con­ser­vat­ives would feel doubly duped — for­feit­ing what was left of their ne­go­ti­at­ing lever­age, and abandon­ing their debt-ceil­ing prin­ciples to boot.

This sense of un­cer­tainty, amp­li­fied by a deep dis­trust con­ser­vat­ives feel for the White House, has Lab­rador pitch­ing a pro­pos­al that some of his fel­low con­ser­vat­ives aren’t sold on.

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who is per­haps Lab­rador’s closest friend in Con­gress, said he — like many oth­er con­ser­vat­ives — is on the fence. They have heard ar­gu­ments for and against the plan, but aren’t will­ing to stake out a po­s­i­tion un­til they see the lan­guage of the fi­nal bill.

“I’ve al­ways said that I would sup­port a debt-ceil­ing in­crease only if it’s coupled with ma­jor re­forms to gov­ern­ment. I had nev­er really con­sidered things like one-week debt ceil­ing in­creases, or one-month debt ceil­ing in­creases,” Amash said.

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