Congressional Republicans on Friday issued a stern warning to President Obama: They will not approve legislation needed to raise the debt ceiling unless it includes fiscal reforms and won't retreat from the fight if he refuses to negotiate.
House Republicans and connected GOP insiders dismiss press reports suggesting House Speaker John Boehner would offer debt ceiling legislation that didn't include any GOP demands, like spending cuts, just to ensure that the federal government doesn't default on its financial obligations once it hits its $16.7 trillion borrowing limit on Oct. 17.
“If the president thinks that we are going to have a clean raising of the debt limit, he’s now living on another planet,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told the Washington Examiner. “The debt limit has always been the focus of most of us here, and we are not about to raise the debt limit without getting some reforms.”
Unlike the temporary budget bill that divided Republican lawmakers and led to the current government shutdown, House and Senate Republicans are united on the debt ceiling. They say the Obama administration and congressional Democrats will have to make concessions on spending and other reforms before the GOP will allow the must-pass debt ceiling legislation to go through. Republicans control the House and have a large enough minority in the Senate to deny Democrats the 60 votes they'll need to advance a debt ceiling bill.
“Never going to happen,” Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said of the chances of a clean debt ceiling bill passing. “Never has happened; never is going to happen.”
Boehner met this week with his Republican rank and file to gauge positions on the debt ceiling. The speaker and senior GOP leaders are now crafting a package of fiscal and policy reforms they can attach to any debt ceiling bill. Boehner's goal is to craft a proposal that can win over House Republicans without alienating Obama and congressional Democrats.
“I don’t believe that we should default on our debt," Boehner said. "It’s not good for our country.”
Even as they are insisting that the Obama administration negotiate over the debt ceiling — something the president said he would not do — House Republicans are also eager to signal to their constituents that there is no way Congress would allow the government to default on its financial obligations, something that would roil the U.S. economy and global markets.
Boehner tried in private meetings to reassure his members that a debt ceiling deal will be reached and they won't be blamed for allowing the country to default. Sources say that reassurance has been misinterpreted, leading some to believe Boehner would do whatever is necessary to prevent default, including pushing through a clean bill free of GOP demands.
The speaker has refused to accede to Democratic demands for a funding bill needed to keep the government open partly to protect Republican negotiating leverage on the debt ceiling. Boehner all but said Friday that Democrats were misconstruing previous statements in which he said he was committed to raising the federal borrowing limit and avoiding default, which could wreak havoc on the U.S. economy and global market.
Raising his voice, the speaker added: “But after 55 years of spending more than what you bring in, something ought to be addressed. This year we’ll have more revenue than any year in the history of our country, and we still have a nearly $700 billion deficit. And I think the American people expect, if we’re going to raise the amount of money we can borrow, we ought to do something about our spending problem and the lack of economic growth in our country.”
Republicans were divided in an earlier fight over a government funding bill, with a band of House conservatives insisting that no bill be approved unless it eliminates funding for Obamacare. Recognizing that Obama and Senate Democrats would never agree to dismantle Obamacare and that Republicans would be blamed for a shutdown, most Republicans wanted to put off the Obamacare fight until negotiations over the debt ceiling began.
Democrats argue that debt-ceiling increases were historically routine and derided GOP attempts to negotiate other priorities by attaching them to the bill. But for congressional Republicans — establishment veterans and recently elected Tea Party rebels alike — using the debt ceiling legislation to enact fiscal reforms is a unifying goal that, like repealing Obamacare, represents the core of what many feel they were elected to Congress to do.
Even with fiscal reform or other GOP priorities attached, many Republicans view raising the debt ceiling as a tough vote to take, one that they will have to explain to their constituents back home. That is among the reasons why one Republican lobbyist with relationships on Capitol Hill described the notion that Boehner would push through legislation without GOP demands attached as “tantamount to Boehner resigning as speaker.”
“They’re wrong,” Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said, about Democrats’ speculation that House Republicans will back down and support a clean debt ceiling bill. “They’re wrong. They’d be willing to default.”