Beltway Confidential

New GOP strategy: Offer deal on debt limit, but keep shutdown fight going

BY: Byron York October 10, 2013 | 12:00 am

Many House Republicans, including some key leaders, have decided they can live with a government shutdown but not with the threat of default. In the hours ahead, look for the GOP to seek a deal with President Obama and Democrats on at least a short-term increase in the debt limit, while standing firm on their requirement that a continuing resolution to fund the government must contain some significant measure to limit Obamacare. The bottom line: Republicans have discovered the world did not end when shutdown became a reality -- but they're not willing to risk it with the debt ceiling.

House Speaker John Boehner discussed the strategy in some detail during a meeting Wednesday with GOP freshmen. He explained that "the shutdown is just much less painful than the debt limit if the markets start rattling," according to a lawmaker who was there. "He basically told us that he's not going to allow us to breach that date."

"Boehner said he thinks that punting on the debt limit for a little while will bolster our message that we're willing to meet the president halfway," the House Republican continued. "We feel that the most potent attacks against us are for playing with the debt limit, and so by putting that off, we can see the continuing resolution fight through and then we can turn to the debt limit."

At the meeting, Boehner pointed to the events of September 2008, when the economy was in free-fall and lawmakers first considered TARP, to illustrate the risk of pushing past the debt limit. Back then, the House at first rejected the hastily-conceived TARP proposal, and the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 700 points. Now, with the House facing a debt limit standoff that could result in default, the Speaker doesn't want a replay of unhappy events. "Boehner said it's too hot," said the House Republican of the debt fight. "He doesn't want to go there."

One proposal under consideration is for Republicans to pass a short term increase in the debt limit -- perhaps in the six-week range -- without accompanying demands for spending cuts or other GOP priorities. That plan appears to have the support of some of the outside groups, including Heritage Action and FreedomWorks, that have pushed hard for Republicans to keep up the Obamacare fight. Temporarily settling the debt limit standoff, representatives of the groups say, would allow the House GOP to continue battling for limits on Obamacare.

If adopted at a Republican meeting Thursday, the strategy would be yet another example of Boehner accommodating the most conservative wing of the GOP conference, the one that has been driving the Obamacare fight all along. In doing so, Boehner will not have the support of all House Republicans, particularly those who would prefer that the Speaker work on a deal to quickly settle both the debt limit and the government funding issues. "Many of us want it all dealt with," said another House Republican. "I hate the punting. I think the Obamacare angle is a fool's errand."

In pursuing the new plan, Boehner might also have a problem with some of his freshmen. A number of the Republicans elected in 2012 -- after the high-profile 2011 debt limit fight that resulted in sequestration spending cuts -- ran for office pledging that they would not support a debt limit increase unless it was accompanied by more spending reforms. It's not clear if all of them will go along with a temporary increase now unless it includes such reforms.

But if enough Republicans end up supporting the plan, and if the new strategy is adopted, the GOP will continue to focus on the continuing resolution fight, maintaining its Obamacare demands while passing more targeted spending bills they believe Democrats will ultimately have to accept. For the moment, that means the partial government shutdown, now in its tenth day, will continue.

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