No Closer to Ending the Shutdown, Lawmakers Begin Debt Fight

Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks to the media after a meeting with President Obama at the White House Wednesday on the second day of the government shutdown. 
National Journal
Billy House and Michael Catalini
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Billy House Michael Catalini
Oct. 7, 2013, 5:30 p.m.

A brawl over the debt lim­it is start­ing in Con­gress without an end to the gov­ern­ment shut­down, and there are few signs of a swift res­ol­u­tion for either is­sue. Many Re­pub­lic­ans are dis­miss­ing warn­ings from Demo­crats about the con­sequences of breach­ing the ceil­ing and are con­tinu­ing to seek con­ces­sions on fed­er­al spend­ing.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., is ex­pec­ted to in­tro­duce a bill Tues­day that would raise the debt lim­it through the 2014 midterm elec­tions, ac­cord­ing to Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate aides. A pro­ced­ur­al vote on the mo­tion could come Fri­day or Sat­urday, ac­cord­ing to a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide.

In the House, Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he doesn’t in­tend to let the coun­try de­fault. But he’s also said that the Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled cham­ber does not have enough votes to pass a “clean” debt-ceil­ing bill.

In oth­er words, House Re­pub­lic­ans con­tin­ue to in­sist that any in­crease in the na­tion’s bor­row­ing lim­it must be pack­aged with oth­er pro­vi­sions sought by the GOP ma­jor­ity.

Boehner and his con­fer­ence are set to meet be­hind closed doors at the Cap­it­ol on Tues­day.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans have, as they have signaled for months, be­gun sketch­ing what they want in re­turn for sup­port­ing a high­er debt lim­it, in­clud­ing en­ti­tle­ment re­forms, spend­ing cuts, and changes in Obama­care.

“We’ve got to get some re­forms, and this is the lo­gic­al place to do it be­cause it’s like go­ing to the bank to bor­row money,” said Sen. John Ho­even, R-N.D. “When you go to the bank [the banker] says, “˜OK, how are you go­ing to make ad­just­ments so you don’t have to keep bor­row­ing?’ “

Re­pub­lic­ans are con­fid­ent that they can ne­go­ti­ate something in ex­change for a ceil­ing hike, feel­ing cer­tain Re­id won’t be able to get the six GOP sen­at­ors he’ll need to reach 60 votes — and that’s as­sum­ing all Demo­crats vote with the ma­jor­ity lead­er.

“I just don’t think he’s go­ing to get his clean debt ceil­ing,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

But Demo­crats are skep­tic­al that Re­pub­lic­ans would risk tak­ing on the pos­sible blame if the coun­try flirts with a first-ever de­fault on its debt.

“It’s one thing to say you have lever­age. It’s an­oth­er thing to use it,” said Sen. Chris­toph­er Coons, D-Del. “All I’m try­ing to con­vey is that I think there are enough folks who re­cog­nize that to ser­i­ously con­tem­plate us­ing it means risk­ing mis­cal­cu­la­tion and risk­ing ser­i­ous harm to our eco­nomy.”

Demo­crats were hes­it­ant to talk about the de­tails of Re­id’s bill since it had not yet been in­tro­duced, but they did sug­gest such a bill could sur­pass the 60-vote threshold.

“At this point, cer­tainly the re­spons­ible thing to do is pay our bills,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “Cer­tainly we have Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues that un­der­stand that.”

There were mixed sig­nals Monday on wheth­er House GOP lead­ers might press ahead this week with an­oth­er ver­sion of their own debt-ceil­ing bill. Some aides to Boehner said they were un­aware of any plan to do so, while oth­ers said they ex­pec­ted it to oc­cur later in the week.

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