GOP strategy on debt ceiling stalls

Eric Cantor Eric Cantor

House Republicans on Wednesday acknowledged that their two leading options for dealing the  federal debt-limit do not have sufficient support inside the GOP caucus, strengthening the hand of the people who argue for a clean debt limit bill.

The turn in the House GOP's internal  maneuvering came during a morning huddle in the office of Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) attended the session and shared the latest informal whip counts on the GOP's bargaining ideas.

The reports from Cantor and McCarthy were brief and direct: the votes aren't there, they told Boehner, and Republicans need to develop a new debt-limit plan.

On Monday, House Republicans discussed linking a  one-year extension of the federal government's borrowing authority to a repeal of some provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The second idea was to trade trade approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for a one-year extension. Both ideas were debated at a conference meeting and members expected the conference to coalesce around one of the plans by later this week.

That playbook soon fizzled, however, once GOP leadership aides fanned out throughout the Capitol to take the temperature of members about the plans. Instead of finding growing support, they found unease and complaints, with myriad concerns raised by the House's right flank.

This shift in the GOP's debt-limit plans leaves Boehner scrambling to find another option to bring to the floor before the end of the month, when the debt ceiling is expected to be reached, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

Three House GOP aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Boehner is now likely to bring up a package that could win Democratic votes. A clean extension - one without strings attached - is also on the speaker's radar, due to his colleagues inability to rally behind a plan.

House Republicans will meet later this week to rethink their strategy.

Robert Costa is a national political reporter at The Washington Post.

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