House Republicans tell me Speaker John Boehner wants to craft a “grand bargain” on fiscal issues as part of the debt-limit deliberations, and during a series of meetings on Wednesday, he urged colleagues to stick with him.
The revelation came quietly. Boehner called groups of members to his Capitol office all day, taking their temperature on the shutdown and the debt limit. It became clear, members say, that Boehner’s chief goal is conference unity as the debt limit nears, and he’s looking at potentially blending a government-spending deal and debt-limit agreement into a larger budget package.
“It’s the return of the grand bargain,” says one House Republican, who requested anonymity to speak freely. “There weren’t a lot of specifics discussed, and the meetings were mostly about just checking in. But he’s looking hard at the debt limit as a place where we can do something big.”
Beyond Boehner’s office, the leadership is sending out a similar message through its emissaries. The House GOP’s most influential fiscal strategists, Dave Camp and Paul Ryan, are privately reassuring nervous Republicans that the federal shutdown may be painful in the short term, but a budget deal is in the works — and they should be enthused about what they’re cooking up.
“Ryan is selling this to everybody; he’s getting back to his sweet spot,” says a second House Republican who’s close with Ryan. “He and Camp are going to be Boehner’s guys. That’s why Boehner put them on the CR conference committee; he knows these guys are going to be his point men.”
And during Wednesday huddles, Ryan, Camp, and other House Republicans spoke openly about what kind of concessions they could potentially win from Democrats. Late Wednesday, “the CR-debt limit idea was what people were talking about on the floor,” says a GOP aide.
Per sources, entitlement reforms, such as chained CPI, an elimination of the medical-device tax, and delays to parts of Obamacare are all on the table as trades for delaying aspects of sequestration and extending the debt limit. Camp, especially, is pushing to have a tax-reform framework included.
From what I hear, this combined deal is being softly sold to members; Wednesday’s talks were about getting them engaged. And it’s all about what Republicans could win – and little about what they’ll give in return.
What’s not being discussed: increased tax rates or revenues. That doesn’t mean, however, that revenue as part of a tax-reform pact has been ruled out.
Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman, wouldn’t comment on the closed-door meetings. “The speaker has always said we’ll need substantial spending cuts and reforms in order to raise the debt limit, like in the debt-limit bill we’ve been discussing,” he says. “But let’s drop the phrase ‘grand bargain.’ Right now, there’s nothing grand, and there’s no one to bargain with.”