House conservatives signaled Wednesday that they may be willing to accept a short-term funding bill that would put on hold for a few weeks their fight with President Obama and Democrats over a government funding bill and debt ceiling increase.
The fiscal battle has already forced a government shutdown that on Wednesday entered its ninth day, and the Oct. 17 deadline Congress faces to either approve an increase in the debt ceiling or allow the U.S. to default on its financial obligations is fast approaching.
Republicans do not intend to give any ground on policy. They still refuse to support a debt ceiling increase unless they get concessions from Democrats on spending and entitlement reform. But there appears to be a willingness to consider two short-term bills that would allow the government to reopen and the debt ceiling to rise for six to eight weeks as long as Obama agrees to use that time to negotiate a long-term deal.
“I think if the president were to abandon this brinksmanship and sit down and begin negotiating, I think Republicans would be more open to the timing of these issues,” Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said.
Lawmakers spoke of the potential shift after a weekly meeting of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of some of the House's most conservative members, in which they discussed options for raising the debt ceiling. The lawmakers didn't endorse any particular plan, but during the meeting, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., discussed a blueprint he devised to end the stalemate — a plan GOP leaders hope will serve as the basis of any negotiation with Obama.
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., an ardent conservative and proponent of using the government funding bill to defund Obamacare, said he was pleased with the entitlement and tax reform proposals Ryan laid out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. In that article, Ryan talked about spending and entitlement reforms, but didn't once mention Obamacare — the main target of conservatives fighting the government funding bill. Conservatives said Wednesday that delaying or derailing Obamacare remains their top priority, but Salmon appeared open to passing short-term bills to avert a fiscal crisis — as long as Obama agrees to negotiate.
“As long is it gives a date certain that the president has to negotiate in good faith and come to terms with the Congress, I think it puts all the onus back on the president to actually put up or shut up,” Salmon said. “From my perspective, I think it’s very, very provocative and something I’d be really interested in considering.”
Obama has so far refused to negotiate terms to end the government shutdown or raise the debt ceiling. But the president indicated in a news conference Tuesday that he might be willing to negotiate a final deal if Congress approves short-term bills that reopen the government and raise the borrowing limit, averting an immediate crisis.
It's not clear whether Republicans will ultimately pass the short-term bills. House conservatives have previously suggested they would consider a variety of options to address the shutdown and debt ceiling, only to balk at the last minute.
Some outside conservative groups that have been at the forefront of the push to defund Obamacare are urging House Republicans to approve a short-term debt ceiling bill, but only in exchange for policy concessions from Obama. However, the groups still insist that the GOP continue trying defund Obamacare in the spending bill needed to reopen the government.
The government funding bill and debt ceiling are likely to be melded together in any final deal Republicans would approve. The question is whether House GOP leaders will be able to count on the support of conservatives.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said conservatives were considering several debt ceiling options, but declined to provide specifics. Scalise also sidestepped questions about what his group wanted in the government funding bill. However, Scalise signaled that conservatives were looking for a short-term debt ceiling bill they could support if Obama continues to refuse to negotiate.
“We’ve been putting a lot of ideas on the table, both to fund government, but also to increase the debt ceiling with reforms that ultimately get you to a balanced budget so that you don’t keep hitting up against the debt ceiling,” Scalise said. “There are a number of things being worked on, both for long-term debt ceiling increases with subsequent reforms as well as short-term if the president doesn’t want to come to the table and negotiate.”