House Republicans announce plan to extend debt limit

Friday, January 18, 2013 - 8:00pm

While at a GOP retreat, House Republican leaders on Friday announced a vote next week on a three-month extension of the debt limit, with a requirement that both chambers pass a budget or else go without pay.

The added condition to the short term extension bill aims to force the Democratic-led Senate to pass a budget--something the upper chamber hasn't done in four years.

"That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year," House Speaker John Boehner said in his closing remarks at the retreat, according to excerpts provided by his office. "We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government's spending problem."

Building onto that, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in a statement that if the Senate or House fail to pass a budget in three months, members of Congress "will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job. No budget, no pay."

House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy told CNN that "what we're trying to do is put us on a path to a balanced budget."

"April 15th is the deadline for both houses to pass a budget," he continued. "A budget is a roadmap to not only where you are but where you can go. Unfortunately the House has passed one the last two times, but the Senate has not, and what has that created? A $16 trillion debt. An idea of not knowing where our economy is gonna go."

The short-term extension strategy represents a departure from recent discussions where Republicans pushed that any increase in the debt limit must include spending cuts that amounted to the same size of the increase.

And Republican leaders seem to be steering clear of any suggestions that the party is willing to risk allowing the government to default on its loans--the consequence should the debt ceiling be kept as is--as a way to put pressure on the White House and Senate Democrats to carve out drastic spending cuts.

"We are not going to default- I don't know of anybody, and I move in fairly fiscally conservative circles within our party -- none of us are talking about default," said conservative GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina. He also signaled he agreed with the new House GOP strategy.

"If you can figure out ways to get little types of reforms, little fixes for small extensions I don't find that objectionable," Mulvaney told reporters.

This is a notable shift, given that Mulvaney, and many of his colleagues elected in 2010, pushed for major spending cuts in exchange for increasing the debt limit.

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded Friday, saying the Senate would be "happy to consider" the House bill if it would "avoid default and allow the United States to meet its existing obligations."

"We have an obligation to pay the bills we have already incurred -- bills for which many House Republicans voted," Jentleson continued, though he didn't address the Republicans' condition about passing a budget.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, agreed with House Republicans' insistence on a budget from the Senate.

"It's not the discussion about the debt and budget failures that has put our nation's credit rating at risk-it's the unsustainable debt, the out-of-control Washington spending, and the failure to budget that got us here. It's time to change, and the debt ceiling discussion is the perfect time for that debate," he said in a statement.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also responded to the news Friday afternoon.

"We are encouraged that there are signs that Congressional Republicans may back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education and programs middle class families depend on," he said.

President Barack Obama, however, has previously closed the door to negotiating over the debt ceiling or passing a solution in increments, saying "America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they've already racked up."

"They're going to have to send me something that's sensible. And we shouldn't be doing this ... on a one to three-month timeframe," Obama said at a news conference on Monday. "Why would we do that? This is the United States of America. ... What, we can't manage our affairs in such a way that we pay our bills and we provide some certainty in terms of how we pay our bills?"

The necessity of raising the debt ceiling comes shortly after the fiscal cliff, which found Republicans and Democrats at stalemate for weeks over averting tax increases and spending cuts that they had designed to trigger if they could not reach a deal.

"I'm not going to have a monthly or every-three-months conversation about whether or not we pay our bills," Obama said. "Because that in and of itself does severe damage. Even the threat of default hurts our economy. It's hurting our economy as we speak. We shouldn't be having that debate."

Republican Rep. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, said Thursday the short-term extension idea came out of an ad hoc group led by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, and Boehner signaled he supported the approach.

At one of the closed door sessions at the retreat, rank and file members viewed a slide show that highlighted how one of the last major deficit reduction packages -- known as Gramm-Rudman -- was preceded by a series of short term extensions in the debt ceiling.

Fleming said many conservatives backed the idea.

"I think we're all pretty much on board," Fleming said, and noted that impetus behind it was to keep the pressure on for reaching a broader deal to cut spending.

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