House Republican leaders are trying to unify their Conference around a set of debt limit negotiating principles, hoping to avoid a repeat of the internal breakdown they had over spending cuts earlier this month.
Republicans are prepping for what is expected to be a months-long fight with Democrats and the White House over a politically fraught vote to increase the nation’s debt limit, something many of their Members vowed not to do. Formal negotiations with the White House and Senate begin next month, and House Republicans are using these weeks to get a clear idea of what the Conference will tolerate, without delving into specifics.
The principles of a debt limit deal for Republicans could include “immediate” reductions in mandatory and discretionary spending, hard spending caps, federal workforce reductions (possibly through attrition) and a spending cut trigger tied to debt as it relates to gross domestic product.
Lawmakers participating in the upcoming meetings include House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and House Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.).
The meetings are largely seen as public theater; Republicans already are preparing to use the sessions as a public forum for hammering Democrats.
But while they may be unified against the opposite party, House Republicans have a major internal split to attend to after 59 of their Members defected from party leaders to vote against a six-month spending bill despite the role of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in orchestrating the deal. The package, which passed the House with Democratic support, cuts $38.5 billion in government spending, far more than President Barack Obama had originally proposed, yet below the $61 billion House Republicans wanted.
Several rank-and-file Members expressed their unhappiness with that final deal, saying it did not go far enough.
So far, much of the GOP leaders’ focus on the debt limit has been on bringing their Conference together on what to extract in exchange for supporting a final package. Republican leaders believe they have a stronger negotiating position if they speak with a single voice.
Several options are on the table, including adding a balanced-budget amendment and tying further debt limit increases to the GDP or deficits that Congress must hit or face spending cuts.
But Republican aides said the core of the GOP’s position will also include mandatory immediate reductions in discretionary and mandatory spending.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.