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With the administration’s debt ceiling deadline fast approaching, House Republican leaders are considering a four-year debt limit increase that would take the issue off the table for the rest of President Barack Obama’s presidency.
The plan would, however, come at no easy price for Obama, who pledged as recently as Monday morning not to negotiate with Republicans on a debt ceiling hike. Republicans would demand major tax and entitlement changes — the latter of which has been anathema to many Democrats — and they could also ask for movement on the sequester and an expiring continuing resolution that must be dealt with in the next three months.
The idea was one of many brought up over Sunday and Monday, as Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and his leadership team and staff held a strategy session in Warrenton, Va.
“We have an opportunity to inject years of certainty while doing some fundamental tax reform and entitlement reform,” said Rep. Steve Southerland II of Florida, the sophomore class leadership representative, who was at the meeting.
In addition to the four-year plan, ideas for extending the debt ceiling ranged from a one- or two-year increase to one that would last only 30 or 60 days.
Still, the ultimate decision on which path to take will not be forged until the rank and file have their say at the full conference retreat, which starts Wednesday in Williamsburg, Va. It is a function of the decentralized power that Boehner holds: He sets the agenda, but it is up to his conference whether to accept it.
“We all agreed we need to get the input from our conference on how to move forward,” said Conference Vice Chairwoman Lynn Jenkins of Kansas. “We know we have to be unified because division hinders our ability to get things done.”
The retreat’s theme of “One Conference, Many Voices,” belies just how wounded, fractured and lacking in direction the House Republican Conference is as it enters the 113th Congress. Boehner was rebuffed by his conference in attempts to pass deals to avert the fiscal cliff. And a few members went on to voice votes of no confidence when they tried to mount a coup against Boehner before he was re-elected to the speakership on Jan. 3.
So in that respect, the retreat will be about much more than just the next three months. It will be about defining the next two years.
“We have to ask ourselves, ‘What is winning in this scenario?’” a GOP leadership aide said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘What is the role of the House Republican Conference in an Obama administration?’”