Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Alan Fram
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders are considering a short-term increase in the U.S. debt limit as a possible way to break the gridlock that threatens the nation with an unprecedented default in as little as a week, officials said Wednesday night.
As the federal government shutdown continues, Tory Anderson, right, with her kids Audrey, 7, and Kai, 3, of Goodyear, Ariz., join others as they rally for the Alliance of Retired Americans to end the shutdown in front of the Social Security Administration offices on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in Phoenix. Other groups rallying to end the government shutdown include Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, the American Federation of Government Employees AFL-CIO, and Arizona FairShare.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas talks with reporters following a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013. President Barack Obama is making plans to talk with Republican lawmakers at the White House in the coming days as pressure builds on both sides to resolve their deadlock over the federal debt limit and the partial government shutdown.
These officials said there is far less urgency inside the leadership about ending the current nine-day partial government shutdown, which has caused inconvenience and financial concern for many individual Americans but appears not to threaten the widespread economic damage a default might bring.
The officials declined to say what conditions, if any, might be attached to legislation to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit for an undetermined period, perhaps a few weeks or months. The GOP rank and file is expected to meet privately to discuss the issue on Thursday, before a delegation led by Speaker John Boehner goes to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama.
The officials describing the developments late Wednesday spoke only on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose details of private deliberations.
Obama has said he won’t agree to sign a debt limit increase if conditions are attached. Republicans indicated several days ago they intended to seek spending cuts to reduce deficits, measures to roll back environmental regulations and changes in the nation’s 3-year-old health care law.
More recently, the GOP-controlled House has passed legislation to create a 20-member group of lawmakers from the House and Senate to negotiate over those and other issues. The bill makes no mention of an increase in the debt limit, but the two topics could be combined in a potential face-saving way out of the impasse.
The disclosures came as Obama met at the White House in late afternoon for more than an hour with House Democrats. He told them that while he would prefer legislation extending the Treasury’s borrowing ability beyond the next election, he would also sign a shorter-term bill.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has told lawmakers they must raise the debt limit by Oct. 17 to avoid risking a default, but neither house has yet scheduled a vote.
In the Senate, Democrats have proposed a no-strings-attached $1 trillion increase in borrowing authority that is designed to prevent a recurrence of the current confrontation before the 2014 elections. A test vote is scheduled for the weekend, and Republicans have yet to indicate how vigorously they might oppose it.
In addition to House leadership conversations, a group of conservatives met privately during the day for what several officials described as a wide-ranging discussion on the debt limit and the threat — or lack of it — posed by default.
No consensus was reached, but among those who spoke was Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate who is chairman of the House Budget Committee and a prominent deficit hawk. In an op-ed article published during the day in The Wall Street Journal, he wrote, “We need to pay our bills today_and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow. So let’s negotiate an agreement to make modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code.”
Raising the cost of Medicare for better-off beneficiaries and making changes to the tax code are perennials in budget negotiations, and precisely the type of item Obama says he is willing to discuss — but only after the government is open and the debt limit raised.
The private conversations stood in contrast to political maneuvering that characterized the day at the Capitol.
Its approval ratings scraping bottom, Congress took no discernible steps to end the nine-day partial government shutdown or to head off threatened default.
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., left, stands on the Senate steps on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, during a news conference on the ongoing budget battle. President Barack Obama was making plans to talk with Republican lawmakers at the White House in the coming days as pressure builds on both sides to resolve their deadlock over the federal debt limit and the partial government shutdown. From left are, Reid, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
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