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A growing faction of House Democrats is renewing its push for a clean debt limit vote — pressing ahead even as the White House and Senate Democrats appear committed to fulfilling Republican demands for spending cuts to accompany a deal. But liberals risk being labeled as out of touch with the political climate.
Despite their fellow Democrats' willingness to tackle the burgeoning deficit, a group of liberal lawmakers contends that its plan is the only one to bring a near-term solution ahead of Tuesday's projected default deadline.
They note that Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) proposal is unlikely to win Senate passage and that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) plan is expected to face an equally grim fate in the House.
"If the negotiations don't succeed, you have to have an alternative, and the alternative is to do what we've always done, which is a clean vote," said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who was trying to round up supporters this week. "And so this is a backup."
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) announced that his group was behind a clean debt vote, and a handful of lawmakers were collecting signatures onto a letter Wednesday. Their thinking, according to Democratic aides, is that absent a bipartisan deal that can pass in both chambers, something needs to be ready to prevent a default Tuesday.
Still, it's highly unlikely the eleventh-hour proposal could win approval on the House floor. Conservative Republicans would likely reject it, and fiscally moderate Democrats would be reticent to vote to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts.
Even Reid announced Wednesday that he would "tweak" his measure to achieve $2.4 trillion in spending cuts to meet a GOP demand to offset a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt limit.
Plus, Welch's proposal already failed on the floor earlier this year.
"The last time it was political," the Vermont Democrat said of the May 31 vote, which he explained was set up to "strengthen [Republicans'] hand in the negotiations."
The Democratic Caucus split in that vote, with 97 voting in favor and 82 against, including nearly every member of elected leadership. Some of those votes were lost in protest to what Democrats charged was a politicized floor vote set up to fail.
Welch predicted he could garner more support a second time around because "we're on the brink of Aug. 2 and there's increasing apprehension that negotiations will fail."
Not everyone is convinced. Aides note that moderates would likely still vote against the measure, even as the deadline draws near. And with so much of the debate focused on deficit reduction, one senior Democratic staffer said, "I think that makes us look out of touch, if everyone is for cuts, but us."
If there's a default, however, Democrats on board with Welch's plan predict Republicans will be the ones looking out of touch.
"This is not to indicate that we're not willing to sit down and work on the larger issues of the economy," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who was rounding up bill co-signers Wednesday. "But in the absence of being able to negotiate with Republicans, we have to do something to avoid a default and the catastrophic consequences."
Welch reached out to a handful of business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and JPMorgan Chase, to rally support for his bill last spring. It's unclear whether he has gone back to those groups in recent days, but the chamber has come out in favor of Boehner's plan and is even making it a key vote for Members.
Democrats discussed a range of Plan B options during their Caucus meeting Wednesday, including encouraging President Barack Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment and raise the debt ceiling without Congressional approval. But not even the president has been supportive of that idea, telling attendees at a town hall in College Park, Md., last week: "I have talked to my lawyers. They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument."
That did not prevent Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) from making a fresh push.
"I am convinced that whatever discussions about the legality of that can continue, but I believe that something like this will bring calm to the American people and will bring needed stability to our financial markets," Clyburn said Wednesday.