The House Republican Conference will convene a special meeting Friday morning, and members expect GOP leadership to address how the feud over government funding is bleeding into the bigger, more consequential battle over extending the nation’s borrowing limit.
“There’s a growing sense that, at the end of the day, this all gets wrapped up together,” said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, deputy whip for the House Republicans.
Whether Brady’s colleagues will welcome such a comprehensive approach, however, remains to be seen. Although the Oct. 17 deadline to extend the debt limit looms large over Washington, some conservatives are skeptical about letting the Senate off the hook at a time when they feel they have seized momentum in the shutdown battle. To combine the funding fight with the debt-ceiling fight, they say, could rob Republicans of the leverage they have gained in recent days.
“We’re ready to open up 95 percent of the government right now; Harry Reid is the one standing in the way of that. So he may have a motive there to collide them together,” said Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., speaking of the Senate majority leader.
Other Republicans welcome the notion of the long-discussed “grand bargain,” convinced that their position grows stronger as the calendar draws closer to Oct. 17 — especially if the government remains shuttered. With mounting public pressure on the White House to deliver the nation from the brink of its first-ever default, they think President Obama would be amenable to an agreement that includes wins for both parties — including, perhaps, some restructuring of entitlement programs that he would otherwise never concede.
“As it starts getting closer to the debt-ceiling date, the president feels more and more pressure,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. “I think there’s a good chance we can both get things we want, because he understands that we’ve never gone past that debt line.”
But not all GOP lawmakers endorse a comprehensive approach. The conservative members who are committed to defunding the Affordable Care Act realize that any sweeping resolution to these twin fiscal fights would have to include significant policy concessions — including funding for Obamacare. This could be a concession they simply are not willing to make, regardless of what Republicans get in return.
In fact, during a pre-shutdown conference meeting, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., stood up and asked Speaker John Boehner to make a commitment that any Republican funding measure would run through mid-December. The reason for that request, Huelskamp said, was to reassure conservatives that “these deals would be negotiated separately.”
Leadership officials, for their part, insist that they want to handle the disputes separately — and are doing everything they can to solve the current crisis before moving on to the next.
“We’re trying to get the government open as quickly as possible,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said at a Wednesday press conference when asked about the convergence of negotiations.
Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, echoed Cantor in an interview with National Journal Daily. “I don’t think anyone wants to stretch this out for two weeks; I’d like to resolve it this afternoon,” Lankford said Wednesday. “I don’t believe there’s any argument for stretching this out for two weeks, like it provides us some sort of mythological leverage once we get there.”
Of course, no one in the conference is accusing Republican leadership of intentionally dragging out the funding debate in hopes of rolling the two negotiations into one. Conservatives continue to the blame the prolonged shutdown on Senate Democrats and the White House. Still, they are suspicious of any GOP effort to abandon the narrow goals of the fight over the stopgap spending bill in favor of an ill-defined attempt at a big, broad deal.
“The reason the federal government is shut down is because President Obama and his allies continue to protect a failed law that is hurting the country,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said in a statement Thursday. “Their reckless behavior should not breathe life into misguided dreams for a grand bargain, which everyone understands is Washington-speak for undermining the sequester, increasing taxes, and accumulating debt.”
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