Two Sides Inching Toward a Short-Term Deal on Debt, Shutdown

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Republican Study Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) (2nd L) introduces the RSC's 'American Health Care Reform Act' during a press conference with other members of the committee as U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) (L), RSC Health Care Working Group Chairman Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN) (2nd R) and U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) looks on at the U.S. Capitol September 18, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Republican bill is intended to replace the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010.
National Journal
Tim Alberta, Michael Catalini and Billy House
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Tim Alberta and Michael Catalini Billy House
Oct. 9, 2013, 6:12 p.m.

With top House Re­pub­lic­ans and Sen­ate Demo­crats set to huddle with Pres­id­ent Obama in sep­ar­ate White House meet­ings Thursday, the dev­il re­mained in the still-un­deter­mined de­tails of any stop­gap bill that could end the gov­ern­ment shut­down and avert a first-ever na­tion­al de­fault.

Any agree­ment, it ap­peared Wed­nes­day night, will de­pend on meet­ing House Re­pub­lic­an ex­pect­a­tions that they would re­ceive IOUs for later ne­go­ti­ations on spend­ing and policy is­sues. There was also little clar­ity about how the GOP de­mands for com­mit­ments in fu­ture talks would mesh with con­tinu­ing Demo­crat­ic re­fus­als to pass any­thing but a “clean” bill with no strings at­tached.

Four House Demo­crat­ic lead­ers spoke with re­port­ers late Wed­nes­day after the hour-long meet­ing at the White House: Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi of Cali­for­nia, Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er of Mary­land, As­sist­ant Minor­ity Lead­er James Cly­burn of South Car­o­lina, and Rep. Steve Is­rael of New York, chair­man of the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee.

Pelosi called the meet­ing “very pos­it­ive” but in­dic­ated no change in the Demo­crats’ po­s­i­tion that there should be no ne­go­ti­ations un­til the gov­ern­ment shut­down is ended and the threat to the debt lim­it re­moved.

Yet, just hours earli­er at the Cap­it­ol, House GOP con­ser­vat­ives were sud­denly sound­ing op­tim­ist­ic about the pro­spects for a short-term meas­ure that they said some of them were now will­ing to con­sider.

A num­ber of those Re­pub­lic­ans in in­ter­views spoke with con­fid­ence that the House could soon ap­prove a short-term deal to raise the debt ceil­ing and force Demo­crats to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table.

De­tails are still be­ing ironed out, House Re­pub­lic­ans said, but they are on track to ap­prove a debt-lim­it ex­ten­sion — last­ing between four and six weeks — that would es­tab­lish a frame­work for sub­sequent fisc­al ne­go­ti­ations. Some said such a meas­ure could pass as soon as Fri­day.

“We aren’t go­ing to solve the long-term chal­lenges in a week,” said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. “So if there’s a solu­tion to this … it’s a ne­go­ti­ated agree­ment to have a short-term debt-lim­it ex­ten­sion that gives the time to be able to solve the long-term chal­lenges.”

Pressed for more spe­cif­ics, Re­pub­lic­ans made clear that their main goal is a bill that in­cludes some form of agree­ments or frame­work for im­me­di­ate talks on spend­ing and oth­er is­sues.

Some mem­bers are push­ing for spend­ing cuts to equal any in­crease in the debt ceil­ing, though such a fig­ure could be dif­fi­cult to cal­cu­late. Oth­ers are ad­voc­at­ing the in­clu­sion of mini-fund­ing bills that have been passed through the House. A clutch of con­ser­vat­ives, mean­while, is ask­ing for lan­guage that would pri­or­it­ize Treas­ury pay­ments on the na­tion’s debts.

“We’d prefer a long-term deal,” said Rep. Steve Scal­ise of Louisi­ana after he emerged from a closed-door meet­ing of the con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee, which he chairs. “But if we need to do something short-term, we should have the cor­res­pond­ing re­forms.”

Still, with the debt-ceil­ing dead­line loom­ing next week, and mar­kets war­ily watch­ing every move in Con­gress, some GOP law­makers also are against at­tach­ing any­thing “ob­jec­tion­able” for fear the Sen­ate would re­ject it.

House Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his lead­er­ship team have been meet­ing this week with rank-and-file mem­bers to build con­sensus and keep every­one on the same page. One of those mem­bers, speak­ing on con­di­tion of an­onym­ity in or­der to talk can­didly about the strategy of the con­fer­ence, said the short-term ex­ten­sion has emerged as the “clear front-run­ner” and said he’s hop­ing for a vote by week’s end.

One hang-up, he said, is de­cid­ing ex­actly how long the ex­ten­sion should last — and which pro­vi­sions could be in­cluded without start­ing an­oth­er ping-pong match with the Sen­ate.

From the Re­pub­lic­an view, though, that is the very door that Obama him­self has opened, in say­ing he’d con­sider the op­tion of a short-term meas­ure to end the nine-day par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down and stave off de­fault, while he ne­go­ti­ates over fisc­al and health policy.

But the un­answered ques­tion, of course, is what is meant by such a “frame­work” and the com­mit­ments that it would en­tail.

“We’ll see,” said a seni­or House lead­er­ship aide, when asked if even Boehner is on board with such an idea.

“Clearly, Re­pub­lic­ans want to avoid de­fault,” said Rep. Kev­in Brady, R-Texas, in a re­frain echoed by sev­er­al mem­bers leav­ing the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee meet­ing.

Still, many Re­pub­lic­ans also con­tin­ued to dis­miss the Treas­ury De­part­ment’s pro­jec­tion that the gov­ern­ment will reach its bor­row­ing lim­it on Oct. 17 and im­me­di­ately face a fisc­al dooms­day. Sev­er­al, in­clud­ing Rep. John Flem­ing, R-La., said their view seemed to be sup­por­ted in a memo be­ing cir­cu­lated by Moody’s In­vestors Ser­vice that said the United States would be able to con­tin­ue pay­ing its bills after Treas­ury’s drop-dead date.

Flem­ing said Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., spoke dur­ing the closed-door RSC meet­ing and made the point that it will take sev­er­al weeks to get all the parts of the GOP’s de­sired re­forms through Ways and Means and oth­er com­mit­tees.

House Budget Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Chris Van Hol­len, D-Md., said he hasn’t seen any de­tails of such a Re­pub­lic­an plan.

But, he said, “The po­s­i­tion re­mains that Re­pub­lic­ans don’t get to en­act their budget and their policy agenda in ex­change for open­ing the gov­ern­ment or pay­ing our bills on time — for however long or short a peri­od of time [they might pro­pose].”

The White House had in­vited all House Re­pub­lic­ans to meet with the pres­id­ent Thursday, but Boehner’s of­fice re­spon­ded that just he, his top lieu­ten­ants, some com­mit­tee chairs, and a few oth­ers would be at­tend­ing. That did not an­ger con­ser­vat­ives in­ter­viewed Wed­nes­day night, who said they did not take it as an at­tempt to keep them out of the mix of ne­go­ti­ations.

Mean­while, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., would not say if he’d con­sider a short-term deal. Asked about it at a news con­fer­ence on the Sen­ate steps, Re­id re­peated a line used in a Demo­crat­ic poster: “Open the gov­ern­ment, pay our bills, we’ll ne­go­ti­ate.”

Oth­er Sen­ate Demo­crats seemed to re­ject the short-term ap­proach, too. In fact 35 Demo­crats stood with Re­id on the steps as he and oth­ers spoke about the ef­fects of the shut­down.

“This short-term stuff just puts us right back in the same po­s­i­tion that the Amer­ic­an people are so frus­trated with,” said Sen. Mar­tin Hein­rich, D-N.M. “I don’t see where that gets us. I don’t see that help­ing here a whole lot.”

George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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