in 2011, House GOP leaders are closing in on a more modest proposal.
But it will require help from Democrats to pass.
signaling that the nation can no longer borrow money to pay its bills
– a plan to raise the debt limit and avoid default started to take
House Republicans are moving toward legislation that would raise the
debt ceiling through the first quarter of next year and, at the same
time, restore recent cuts in some veterans’ retirement benefits and
patch a Medicare reimbursement rate for nine months, according to
Time is of the essence. In a letter to the congressional leadership on
Friday, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said that measures to fund the
government won’t last beyond Feb. 27. Moreover, Secretary Lew has
fewer bookkeeping tricks to prolong the deadline than was the case
during previous bids to raise the debt ceiling. The onset of the tax
filing season complicates his ability to forestall default.
House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio promised on Thursday that the
GOP-led House will indeed raise the debt cap. “We’re not going to
default on our debt,” he stated. He even noted the possibility of a
vote on a “clean” bill, free of any GOP conditions.
The reported package – which increases spending on two programs,
albeit with offsetting cuts – would be in stark contrast to 2011, when
the House exacted more than $2.4 trillion in spending cuts over 10
years, including $1 trillion in automatic, across-the-board budget
cuts – known as the “sequester.”
In 2011, the House was riding the crest of the Tea Party wave, which
pounded Washington with demands to end excessive spending and
borrowing. That May, when the national debt was about $14 trillion,
Mr. Boehner gave a forceful speech at the Economic Club of New York,
demanding budget cuts that “should be greater than the accompanying
increase in debt authority that the president is given.”
But the political climate in February 2014 is considerably cooler than
the hothouse of August 2011, when a united GOP caucus took the nation
right up to the edge of default before a debt deal, called the Budget
Control Act, was signed.
This time around, Boehner has struggled to find agreement in his own
caucus on a package of conditions, and they are hardly of the
trillion-dollar variety. The debt is higher now, at more than $17
trillion, but the nation is weary and cautious of the hardball GOP
tactics that brought on the partial government shutdown of last
So are some conservative Republicans. “I do not want to get into a
cataclysmic fight,” says Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho.
Congress also faces midterm elections, which was not the case in 2011.
The types of debt ceiling plans that the speaker has been considering
also show how times have changed. In general, they are smaller bore
and seem more designed to score political points than advance much –
if any – structural change to the budget or federal programs.
This week, Boehner discarded suggestions to attach to debt limit
legislation a requirement that the administration sign the Keystone XL
pipeline deal or get rid of insurance “risk corridors” under
What’s reportedly taking shape now are measures to restore a trim to
pensions for veterans under 62 (last year’s budget agreement called
for $6 billion in cuts) and to avoid mandated double-digit cuts in
reimbursements for doctors serving Medicare patients, called the “doc
fix.” These spending increases would be offset by cuts to mandatory
spending and changes to pension contributions, Politico reports.
But as Boehner acknowledged this week, it will be tough to find 218
Republican votes to pass a package of conditions attached to a debt
ceiling increase. On Thursday he quipped: “Mother Teresa is a saint
now, but you know, if the Congress wanted to make her a saint and
attach that to the debt ceiling, we probably couldn’t get 218
The Democrats are sure not saints in the eyes of Republicans, but in
the end, they might save the day – and the financial markets – by
helping the speaker pass a bill free of conditions that many in his
conference will refuse to support.