“There is no path forward,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said Thursday. “I don’t think anybody in this institution knows the path forward on debt limit, and it’s going to be a messy fight.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Friday that the best way to ensure there is no default is for the current Republican leaders to ignore the fray and hold a vote on a simple debt-limit increase sooner rather than later, even if that means relying on Democratic votes.
“The best option would be John Boehner,” King said. “For him to do whatever he has to do and work with Democrats to get it done.”
Last week, the Treasury Department warned Congress that the government will reach its borrowing limit around Nov. 5, a tight deadline that could create a perfect opportunity for Boehner to force a vote on his way out the door rather than leave it to his successor.
When Boehner announced last month that he would step down at the end of October, he promised to finish as much work as he possibly could before his resignation. Federal highway funding runs out on Oct. 29, the debt ceiling will hit around Nov. 5 and the latest stop-gap spending bill expires on Dec. 11.
But Boehner hasn’t addressed the issue since the leading candidate to replace him, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pulled out of the race on Thursday.
Now Republicans are scrambling to find a replacement and talk of the debt limit or any other looming fiscal deadlines has all but disappeared from the conversation.
Members of the insurgent conservative House Freedom Caucus don’t want spending increases and oppose raising the debt limit without significant spending cuts in tandem. In the past two weeks, their high-pressure tactics prompted Boehner to resign and pressured McCarthy to withdraw his name from consideration for speaker. Whoever does become the next speaker will be under intense pressure to follow the conservatives’ agenda.
“The assumption was that McCarthy would have the support of his caucus and we would begin to be able to negotiate the Highway Trust Fund, the debt ceiling, the shutdown and the Export-Import Bank,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Thursday. “Those four assumptions were completely upended by the shocking events in their caucus today, and now their chaos continues.”
Despite the uncertainty caused by the GOP House leadership conundrum, House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) said Friday that conversations about how to address the debt limit are ongoing, but he declined to provide specific information on a plan or a timeline for completing the work.
“We’re working on that,” Price said. “Secretary Lew provided the ‘x date’ as Nov. 5 so we’ll get it done before then.”
Other House Republicans are more skeptical that a deal could be reached while the party is struggling to choose a leader.
House Budget Committee member Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said hard-liners ignore the reality that eventually Congress will have to work with President Obama to pass any new laws.
“The Democrats control the filibuster in the Senate, and the president of the United States is going to be a Democrat until at least January 2017,” Cole said Thursday. “So if you want to even do the basic things like fund the government, you’ll have to compromise.”
And the White House hasn’t given up just yet.
On Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was “too early to assess all of the fallout” in the House and what impact it would have on the debt limit or the budget debate.
“If the challenge wasn’t previously clear, it is today,” he said. “This is about, you know, not ruining the country’s economy.”