House Republicans on Wednesday are hoping to present a united front and jump-start the next several months’ worth of budget negotiations by approving a short-term debt-limit extension with near-unanimous GOP support.
Members will vote on a “limited suspension” of the federal debt limit through May 19, which would temporarily allow the Treasury Department to issue new debt to cover obligations incurred during that period, along with a measure that would withhold Senators’ pay if they fail to pass a budget.
“All we’re saying is: If the president and the Senate, if this country needs to incur more debt — Senate, please show us your plan to repay that debt, please show us your plan to control spending,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) told reporters Tuesday.
At a press conference Tuesday evening, House leaders declined to say if they had enough votes to pass the bill. However, several GOP aides and lawmakers tell National Review Online that the measure will probably pass with a limited number of defections.
“I think there’s more unity now on this issue than probably anything else I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Representative Tim Griffin (R., Ark.), echoing a popular sentiment among members — including many conservatives — following a two-hour GOP conference meeting at the Capitol on Tuesday.
“We’re all in,” says Representative Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.).
The bill’s passage would spare House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and his leadership team a repeat of the embarrassing “Plan B” debacle in December, when they had to cancel a vote on their preferred fiscal-cliff legislation because they lacked sufficient GOP support.
For Boehner, it would also be a significant reaffirmation of his leadership following a rough patch of several weeks that included a failed attempt to oust him as speaker. Since the failed coup, he has worked hard to return conservative members to the fold by listening to them and incorporating their ideas.
Representative Trent Franks (R., Ariz.), a prominent conservative member, told reporters he would support the bill, noting that House leaders had performed “admirably” under very difficult circumstances.
Another conservative GOP congressman praised leadership for the way it has “adjusted to changes within the conference, by allowing ideas to grow from the bottom and work their way up.”
The plan that’s up for a vote on Wednesday originated in a working group of conservative members including House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.); Representative Steve Scalise (R., La.), who is chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC); and Representatives Tom Price (R., Ga.), Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), and Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas), all former RSC chairmen.
After introducing the plan last week during the House Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Va., GOP leaders worked with members to retool the final bill and address members’ concerns.
On Tuesday, Ryan and Cantor huddled with RSC members to urge a united front. At the conference meeting that evening, Boehner made a further appeal to conservatives by committing to produce a House budget that would balance within a ten-year window.
Representative Tom Graves (R., Ga.), a conservative who said he was still undecided on how he’ll vote, praised this commitment as an important step. “They’ve been very explicit about putting forward bold solutions and balancing the budget in ten years, and that has certainly piqued my interest,” he says of House leadership. “I applaud them for that. But it’s going to require some tough decisions in the future.”
The commitment to a balanced budget was also key in persuading influential activist groups such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action — both of which played a role in scuttling Boehner’s “Plan B” — to hold their fire on the short-term extension.
Not all members have been persuaded, however. Franks says that although the bill is likely to pass, there has been some “fraying around the edges,” mostly owing to concerns over the political optics of voting for a “clean” debt-limit extension, without any spending cuts attached.
“Raising the debt ceiling for a budget to be named later is something that I probably won’t be able to vote for,” says Representative Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.), an outspoken Boehner critic.
A conservative GOP aide was quick to dismiss such dissent as insignificant. “The outliers in this case are going to be outliers on almost anything,” says the aide. “Conservatives are behind this plan.” Their support is indicative of a growing consensus on a longer-term political strategy; members spoke of the short-term extension as merely the first component in the “constellation” of decisions Washington pols will have to make over the next several months.
House Republicans are eager to shift the focus of the debate by highlighting the outright refusal of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) to present a Democratic budget (as required by law) for more than three years. Several members noted their delight at the success of recent social-media campaigns, such as the Twitter hashtag #NoBudgetNoPay. “The public is on our side when it comes to spending,” Griffin tells NRO.
Members are openly angry, and almost envious, that Senate Democrats have suffered virtually no repercussions for failing to do their job, even as they have relentlessly attacked Republicans for their support of Paul Ryan’s previous budgets. “We can’t go another year where they’re always on offense and we’re always on defense,” remarks one GOP aide.
The bill, if passed, would also push back the prospect of a default on the national debt, something GOP leaders wanted to take off the table, at least temporarily, in order to boost their political leverage.
“All this nonsense about default and shutting down the government, it’s no way to have an argument,” one GOP lawmaker tells NRO. “Let’s give ourselves some breathing room to have a real debate about the issues.”
If everything goes according to plan on Wednesday, Reid will be hard pressed not to hold a vote in the Senate, especially since the White House has already signaled it would not oppose the bill.
However, Reid and other Democrats offered no indication Tuesday that they plan to put forward a budget; Reid told reporters he had not yet had time to meet with Senate Budget Committee chairman Patty Murray (D., Wash.).
“We’ll approach that when we need to,” said Senator Ben Cardin (D., Md.), a senior member of the Budget Committee.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), for his part, declined to endorse the House plan during a press conference. “We look forward to seeing what Senate Democrats recommend,” he said.
Senate sources say Republicans are pleased that Senate Democrats may finally be forced to produce a budget, but they have concerns that no spending cuts are attached to the debt-limit extension. It remains to be seen whether Harry Reid will permit some of his most vulnerable members, up for reelection in red-leaning states in 2014, to cast a series of challenging votes on spending and tax issues that could compromise his Senate majority. They will be forced to if he decides to bring a budget to the floor.
Republicans are hoping the political cost of doing nothing will be too high. “This is a lose/lose for Harry Reid,” says a GOP Senate aide.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review.