January 23, 2013

Nancy Pelosi privately urged House Democrats this morning to vote against the House GOP’s plan for a temporary suspension of the debt ceiling, a House Dem aide says. The Dem game plan: Dems are still holding out for the possibility that they can force Republicans to agree to a clean debt limit hike, possibly even one that lasts a year.

The GOP temporary debt limit extension is not clean. It contains a provision that would put the pay of Senators in escrow if the Senate doesn’t pass a budget. The plan is being sold to House conservatives with the offer that if they support it, the House GOP will pass its own budget supposedly wiping out the deficit in 10 years.

According to a Dem aide, Pelosi privately told House Dems this morning that this will set a bad precedent for more GOP debt ceiling game playing. The mere fact that any conditions are attached to it will open the door to the possibility that the GOP could try to attach more conditions to the next extension of the debt limit, which will come up soon, because this one is temporary.

More to the point, Dems believe that if Boehner can’t pass the GOP debt limit bill with Republican support, it will give Dems still more leverage to push for a clean debt limit hike, perhaps a long term one. The idea is simple: The debt limit must be raised one way or the other. And so, if Republicans can’t pass their own solution, that will force Republicans to agree to a vote on a clean hike. Aides say that if the GOP proposal goes down, Pelosi and Harry Reid could come together behind a clean, three month hike or even a year-long one. The ideas is that Senate Republicans might have to support such a move, since the only other alternative at that point would literally be default. After that, Boehner would have to hold a vote on it, for the same reason, at which point it could pass largely with support for House Dems.

Dems will have gotten their clean debt ceiling hike, and Boehner will have been forced to pass yet another bill mostly with Democrats, while sidelining House conservatives once again. That’s a two-fer, or even a three-fer.

Of course, it’s always possible that Boehner will find the 218 votes. But if he doesn’t, that’s the endgame Dems are playing for.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.