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Democrats Divided on Debt

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is staying tight-lipped on the debt limit, urging his Conference to keep its options open and waiting to see what the White House puts on the table.

Democratic trigger proposals, including President Barack Obama’s and one being written by Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), would require automatic revenue increases as well as spending cuts if the deficit does not shrink. But Republicans oppose anything that could lead to a tax increase.

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) on Wednesday predicted he could get the votes for his own budget blueprint in committee next week, despite early criticism of his plan within the Democratic caucus.

But it’s still not clear when or whether Reid would let him bring it to the Senate floor, considering Republicans would have unlimited opportunities for politically difficult amendments.

And Conrad acknowledged Wednesday that it’s possible the Biden talks could ultimately bypass the budget resolution process entirely.

That’s because a budget resolution simply sets rules for future legislation. It’s not a law and is not signed by the president.

Republicans, meanwhile, said Democrats have been struggling because Obama’s original budget plan was so weak.

“Nobody took the president’s proposal seriously, not even Democrats,” Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said. “I think they are trying to figure out what to do because there is no proposal.”

House Republicans enter the meeting even as they continue to work on an internal agreement on what they want in return for a debt limit increase. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) this week convened a series of listening sessions aimed at polling rank-and-file Members on what they want and to hash out a unified position. That process is expected to take several weeks, and Republicans have said it is unclear what specifics they will need to deliver enough votes for the bill. 

Still, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will walk into the room with the budget blueprint written by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and supported by a majority of the party. Senate Republicans represented by Minority Whip Jon Kyl have coalesced around proposals for a balanced-budget amendment as well as tough new caps on spending.

“If we’re going to do business here, we’ve got to mean business,” the Arizona Republican said. “Let’s see exactly what they’re talking about.”

Kyl and Cantor sent a letter Tuesday to Biden asking for a specific proposal that can be scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

“Such information will be necessary to have meaningful discussions,” they said.

“Now that we have made our position clear, it is incumbent on White House and Senate to make their position clear,” a senior House GOP aide said. “We should rule out the things that are unpalatable to each side right off the top with each other for this to be productive.”

For House Republicans, that’s anything that hints of a tax increase.

“The reality is, a tax increase in any form simply cannot come close to passing the House,” the aide said.

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