Signs of Thaw as House GOP Proposes Short Debt-Limit Extension

Described as a “clean” increase, House wants Democrats to come to the table on long-term fiscal issues.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor speaks during a press conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on October 10, 2013.
National Journal
Billy House and Tim Alberta
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Billy House Tim Alberta
Oct. 10, 2013, 8:18 a.m.

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.

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