While much of Washington was enthralled by Benghazi e-mails and the IRS scandal, House Republicans began quietly planning their strategy for the next showdown over the debt limit, now thought to be at least four months away.
At a two-hour listening session Wednesday afternoon in the basement of the Capitol, rank-and-file lawmakers offered suggestions for handling an event that, in 2011, blew their approval ratings to smithereens.
The good news: This time around, most GOP lawmakers agree that they probably should not block a debt-limit increase, halt Treasury borrowing and let the government default on its obligations. According to GOP aides who attended the meeting, the “hell no” caucus appears to be radically diminished.
The bad news for President Obama: Republicans will demand some kind of prize for voting to raise the debt limit, preferably some policy that serves to reduce the debt. They say they will not simply roll over again, as they did in January when they voted without much fuss to suspend enforcement of the debt limit through this weekend.
“It’s pretty clear we’re not going to do that. That one, I can guarantee you,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said as he left the meeting, en route to the swearing-in on the House floor of former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford (R), who won a special election for a House seat last week.
But what should they ask for? On that, Republicans are all over the map. With the budget deficit falling far faster than anyone expected, House leaders have backed off their insistence that any debt-limit increase be paired with budget cuts of equal value. Now, it seems, the sky’s the limit.
At the meeting, 39 lawmakers lined up at microphones to offer suggestions. They ranged from tax and entitlement reform to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to passage of a bill that would require congressional approval for any federal regulation that would impose more than $100 million in new costs on business.
At least one person wanted to take on late-term abortion in the wake of the murder conviction of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell. Others suggested repeal or delay of Obama’s health-care initiative. But for the most part, lawmakers tried to be “realistic,” aides said, suggesting measures that could reasonably be expected to both improve the economy and pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The meeting produced no decisions, either about policy or about the length of any debt-limit increase. Aides said another date-certain suspension — rather than a higher limit — remains a possibility.
Another open question: When should the House act? Aides predicted that House leaders would settle on a strategy and push a bill through before the August recess, before real negotiations with Democrats begin sometime after Labor Day.
“We’re not hurrying this. We’re not going to rush it. We’re going to listen to members. This is the day when you sit down with a yellow pad and pencil and start listing the pros and cons,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.). “But we’re very serious about finding something that could get 233 Republican votes and pass the House.”