The conservative House Freedom Caucus is focusing in on one key demand for the debt ceiling talks that are expected to develop over the next few weeks, one that focuses on restricting borrowing and spending as the government gets closer to the debt ceiling.
In July, the group of about 40 conservatives laid out three possible demands they could make in talks to raise the debt ceiling, which are expected to conclude in September because the government is already at its borrowing limit.
Those options were $250 billion in spending cuts, a bill to repeal Obamacare, and a third possibility that aims to change the way the government spends and borrows money as it approaches the debt ceiling.
A House aide told the Washington Examiner that there is now little expectation that the Freedom Caucus could realistically demand such a large spending cut and the idea of passing any kind of healthcare reform bill seems dead given the Senate's failure in July.
That leaves the third option as the "most realistic," and the aide said the group of conservatives are expected to insist on spending and borrowing management changes as a condition of getting their vote in September.
The aide said many in the caucus would still prefer cuts, but said the lesser demand of asking for improved money management on the part of the government is one they hope Republican leaders can accept.
By moving away from the demand for spending cuts, the Freedom Caucus has "made it pretty easy" for GOP leaders to negotiate a deal, the aide said.
The changes being sought by the House Freedom Caucus are reflected in a bill introduced by Rep. Dave Schweikert, R-Ariz., called the Debt Ceiling Alternative Act. Under that bill, the government would only be allowed to issue debt to pay off principal and interest on the debt.
It would also call on the government to rescind unobligated funds and sell off assets in order to stay under the debt ceiling.
Those are the sorts of management changes that appeal to conservatives, who have long sought ways to get the government to reduce spending and borrowing when it approaches its borrowing limit. Conservatives have complained that it's too easy for the government to simply raise the ceiling again and again and have sought to impose speed bumps that at least force a discussion about the growing national debt, which is now just short of $20 trillion.
But it's not clear if GOP leaders in the House or the Senate will accept that language. Leadership and committee aides had little to say this week about what sorts of ideas they might accept, and it's possible that they could decide to pursue a simple debt ceiling hike with no strings attached that would pass with support from Democrats.
The Trump administration has also made it clear it wants a "clean" debt ceiling increase. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said that explicitly, a sign U.S. officials are not in the mood to negotiate spending and borrowing limits as part of the package.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Mnuchin has said the debt ceiling needs to be resolved by September, when the House is in for just a few weeks to deal with legislation. Several aides indicated it's not clear at all what the plan is yet and said there's no sign of a bill at this point.
"I'd be shocked if we saw the text of anything until the second week in September," one House aide said.
This aide said there is some talk of attaching a debt ceiling bill to some other popular bill, such as one dealing with veterans, but the plan seemed to be unsettled when the House left for August recess last week.