Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is slated to huddle at 4 p.m. today with freshman House members in a Capitol conference room.
The gathering, organized by the freshman class president, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), will follow separate meetings this week between House Democrats and Republicans and President Obama at which the issue of the country’s soaring debt was at the top of the agenda.
Here are three things to watch for in today’s meeting:
1. Whither the “debt limit deniers?” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), one of the main proponents of the argument that the country will not default on its debt obligations if Congress fails to raise the debt limit, introduced legislation in February that he contends would prevent default by requiring the Treasury to make only principal and interest payments past the Aug. 2 deadline it has set. The House version of the bill has garnered 96 co-sponsors, including 45 of the 87 members of the House Republican freshman class. Many of those freshmen are skeptical of Geithner’s August deadline, setting the stage for a potential showdown with the treasury secretary later today.
“This is the difficulty of Secretary Geithner constantly coming out and saying, ‘The date is now. No, the date is now. No, the date is now,’ ” said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a freshman who has signed onto the House version of Toomey’s bill. “He’s crying wolf enough. We understand the wolf is coming at some point; it’s trying to determine when that actually occurs is the hard part. I’d rather not get close to that, but we don’t know when that is because he’s constantly crying wolf.”
2. Will Geithner hold firm on the Aug. 2 date? The White House has repeatedly said that the date announced by Geithner last month is the drop-dead date by which Congress must vote to raise the debt ceiling, warning that any failure to do so will be “catastrophic.” Will Geithner attempt to take on critics of that argument head-on, or will he signal to members that the deadline is a fungible one? Along those lines, will he give members any sense of how the administration might respond in case Congress does not raise the debt limit before August, or will he flatly rule out the possibility of Congress failing to raise the country’s borrowing limit?
3. Will House freshmen be in line with Republican leaders on the debt limit? House Republicans’ 87-member freshman class has at times clashed with GOP leadership. During the debate over avoiding a government shutdown, for instance, members of the freshman class pushed for a package of greater spending cuts than House Republican leaders had initially outlined. In the debt limit debate, leaders of both parties have emphasized that they do not believe that default is an option, while some rank-and-file members have taken issue with that argument. Will any of the House freshmen at today’s meeting, particularly tea-party-backed members, make the case that default would be a better outcome than leadership settling for a deal that doesn’t include significant spending cuts and structural changes such as a balanced-budget amendment?
As always, your thoughts, comments and questions are welcome in the comments section below.