Many Conservatives Reluctant to Merge Budget, Debt Fights

Kevin Brady speaks at a press conference to talk about extending the payroll tax cut for working Americans on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011.
National Journal
Tim Alberta
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Tim Alberta
Oct. 3, 2013, 4:42 p.m.

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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