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For House Republicans, the debt ceiling debate has come down to a simple question: Do they trust Speaker John Boehner?
"You either trust the Speaker or not. I do," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said of the Ohio Republican on Monday.
"This is a test for the Republican Conference, not the Speaker. Can we trust the guy we elected unanimously to lead us" to now cut the best possible agreement with Democrats, Cole added.
With one week left before the Treasury's Aug. 2 deadline to avert government default, lawmakers continued their game of political and procedural chess, with no clear path to the checkmate.
House Republicans released a package that would raise the debt ceiling immediately by $1 trillion in exchange for $1.2 trillion in cuts, even though President Barack Obama has said he would not support a plan that does not extend the limit through 2013. Senate Democrats introduced an administration-backed plan with $2.7 trillion in savings, with no revenues and no entitlement reform.
Under pressure from tea party activists and other conservative organizations, Boehner and his top lieutenants cannot afford to pass a deal that does not have significant GOP support, and in the end, more Republicans than Democrats will have to vote for a debt and deficit package.
But Boehner has had to distance himself repeatedly from Obama, even as he attempts to craft a deal that can secure the president's signature and avert a potentially catastrophic default on the nation's debt obligations. After walking away from a deal with Obama for the second time Friday night, Boehner found himself still battling suspicion among his rank-and-file Members over whether he is crafting an agreement with the president and not them. During a conference call Sunday, Boehner said, "There are no secret negotiations going on, so don't worry," according to a source familiar with the call.
That call was intended as a plea for Conference unity, but reviews of the Boehner legislation were mixed coming out of a Monday afternoon meeting on the deal.
Like many of her GOP colleagues, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) praised Boehner's efforts. But, as was the case with most, Blackburn declined to specifically back the measure, saying she is "waiting to take a look at what it says. ... Let's read the bill. It's always good to read the bill."
House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (Mich.), who said he would vote for the measure, praised Boehner's work.