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Roll Call

House GOP to Offer Debt Limit Hike in Exchange for Senate Budget

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
McCarthy said the House may still ask for spending cuts along with a plan to allow a temporary debt limit increase.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — After a private three-day strategy session here, House Republicans are poised to announce a plan to allow a temporary debt limit increase on the condition that the Senate adopts a budget.

The strategy represents largely scaled-back expectations for the GOP, which hunkered down at a secluded golf retreat here in an attempt to arrive at a path forward after a bruising election season that culminated in dramatic infighting.

“A budget is a road map of not only where you are, but where you can go,” said Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California. “What we are talking about now inside this retreat is moving the debt limit past the April 15 deadline of both houses passing a budget and then have the discussion after you have the road map.”

Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio told his conference Friday in closing remarks released by his office that a long-term debt limit increase needed to be preceded by a budget that cuts spending.

“We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government’s spending problem. The principle is simple: no budget, no pay,” Boehner said, referencing a plan that would tie members’ regular salaries to approval of a budget.

“A long-term increase in the debt limit that is not preceded by meaningful and responsible reductions in government spending might avert a default, but it would also invite a downgrade of our nation’s credit that damages our economy, hurts families and small businesses, and destroys jobs,” the Ohio Republican continued.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said in a statement the House will pass a three-month temporary debt limit increase next week “to give the Senate and House time to pass a budget. Furthermore, if the Senate or House fails to pass a budget in that time, Members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job. No budget, no pay.”

McCarthy said the House may still ask for spending cuts along with the debt limit increase. But the idea of asking for nothing more than a Senate budget is a recognition that the “Boehner rule” of demanding dollar-for-dollar spending cuts for a debt ceiling increase might be unachievable with a Democratic White House and Senate.

While rank-and-file House Republicans and leadership alike seem to have coalesced around the idea, it remains unclear just how much support such a plan would get on the House floor.

Boehner has little room for error with a smaller majority in the 113th Congress. If enough Republicans reject the idea, he may need Democratic votes to push the plan through the House.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office did not reject the offer out of hand, but the Nevada Democrat also did not pledge to adopt a budget this year.

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, issued a statement Friday afternoon, saying: “It is reassuring to see Republicans beginning to back off their threat to hold our economy hostage. If the House can pass a clean debt ceiling increase to avoid default and allow the United States to meet its existing obligations, we will be happy to consider it. As President Obama has said, this issue is too important to middle class families’ economic security to use as a ploy for collecting a ransom. We have an obligation to pay the bills we have already incurred — bills for which many House Republicans voted.”

A spokesman for Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., reacted to the news by highlighting a story in Friday’s Houston Chronicle in which Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, dismissed talk of default.

“As Senator Cornyn said today, Republican threats to play politics with the debt limit are nothing more than a negotiating ploy, so we expect them to allow us to raise the debt limit so the government can pay the bills it has already accrued,” Murray spokesman Eli Zupnick said. “Republicans should stop using these threats of default to hold our economy hostage, and as always, we are ready to work with them to determine the most productive path toward ending these constant crises and moving toward a balanced, bipartisan, and comprehensive budget deal.”

Cornyn told the newspaper: “We will raise the debt ceiling. We’re not going to default on our debt.”

Meanwhile, the president and his spokespeople have vowed repeatedly not to negotiate at all over the debt ceiling, and the president on Monday rejected the idea of “doing this on a one-to-three month time frame.”

But on Friday, White House spokesman Jay Carney did not immediately reject the notion of a short-term solution to the debt limit issue.

“The President has made clear that Congress has only two options: pay the bills they have racked up, or fail to do so and put our nation into default,” Carney said. “We are encouraged that there are signs that Congressional Republicans may back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education and programs middle class families depend on. Congress must pay its bills and pass a clean debt limit increase without further delay. And as he has said, the President remains committed to further reducing the deficit in a balanced way.”

In his Monday comments, the president ridiculed the idea of passing a short-term debt limit increase.

“I am not going to have a monthly, or every three months, conversation about whether or not we pay our bills,” Obama said. “Because that, in and of itself, does severe damage. Even the threat of default hurts our economy. It’s hurting our economy as we speak. We shouldn’t be having that debate.”

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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