House Republicans struggled to agree on a plan to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, with a web of conservative strings attached.
Meanwhile, the Senate tried to swiftly send the House a bill to avoid a government shutdown but was delayed by couple of Republicans seeking to kill the Affordable Care Act at any cost.
The president rallied supporters in favor of the health law while slamming Republicans as extremists and refusing to negotiate with them over the debt ceiling.
In other words, Thursday was just another day in a nation’s capital on the brink, with twin threats to its ability to function: A government shutdown Tuesday and a default Oct. 17. In both cases, the law known as Obamacare is proving to be an unbridgeable gap between the parties.
The Senate is set to vote Friday on a bill to fund the government — including the health law — through Nov. 15. House leaders would not reveal their expected counteroffer, which is likely to attack the health law in some way.
They instead pitched their hard-to-govern caucus an outline of a way to increase the debt limit.
Some of Georgia’s House Republicans were supportive while others desired more budget reforms or wanted to first see the outcome of the shutdown debate.
“We need to show the American people we’re serious about the debt situation we’re in and serious about our spending,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a freshman Republican from Gainesville. “And you can do it in negotiations over this (debt limit) issue.”
Obama and most congressional Democrats are demanding a debt limit increase without conditions.
“I will not negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America,” Obama said at an event in Maryland promoting the health law. “We’re not going to submit to this kind of total irresponsibility. Congress needs to pay our bills on time. Congress needs to pass a budget on time. Congress needs to put an end to governing from crisis to crisis.”
According to an outline provided by Republicans, the House debt-ceiling bill includes an increase in the borrowing limit until December 2014 combined with a one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act.
In addition, it would include a swift overhaul of the tax code, new limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, limits on new federal regulations, approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, more offshore oil drilling and an end to “network neutrality” requirements for the Internet, among other provisions.
The outline also includes Collins’ bill to change the process known as “sue-and-settle” that results in swifter federal regulations under judicial consent decrees.
“They’ve got a pretty good variety of stuff in there that I think is intended to pick up different votes to vote for the bill,” said U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Coweta County Republican who is on the leadership’s “whip team” to gauge members’ support for bills.
“But we don’t know. Are we going to demand all those get accepted before we increase the debt ceiling or do we have some that we will make our stand on?”
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a DeKalb County Democrat who has introduced a bill to eliminate the debt ceiling altogether, scoffed at the GOP’s list of demands.
“That has as much a chance of passing as we have of Santa Claus coming down our chimneys at Christmas,” Johnson said.
House Republican leaders were hoping to unite their caucus behind a first move. That is difficult with the politically perilous debt ceiling.
The cap now is $16.7 trillion, and the proposal would make it about $17.8 trillion – a powerful number in an attack ad.
U.S. Rep. Tom Price, a Roswell Republican, endorsed the bill after leaders pitched it to their caucus in a morning meeting.
“It keeps the House moving in a direction where the Senate has to respond,” he said.
Other Republicans, including Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger, wanted to wait on a debt-ceiling vote until the potential government shutdown is resolved, to see what they can get in those negotiations. Graves led the charge to strip funding from the ACA in the stopgap spending bill, and he said “we’ve got a responsibility to finish this up and let it play out.”
Well short of the needed votes, House leaders appeared ready Thursday to scrap plans for a quick debt-ceiling vote and resolve the shutdown fight first.
The spending a higher debt limit would cover already has been approved by law. And not raising the cap could provoke an unprecedented, economy-rattling default.
“This would be in fact a ‘black swan’ event that we cannot forecast what will happen, but is going to happen at one of the worst possible times, coming in the wake of a great financial calamity called the Great Recession,” said Steve Bell of the Bipartisan Policy Center think tank, a former Senate Republican budget staffer.
The debt ceiling was nearly breached in August 2011, though Congress wriggled its way out with the Budget Control Act. That law started the chain reaction leading to across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration now crimping federal agencies and forcing employee furloughs.
Unlike 2011, there are no behind-the-scenes negotiations going on this time.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he had not had any recent discussions with House Speaker John Boehner on the pair of issues, but his demands are well known.
“Send us a clean CR, clean debt ceiling,” Reid said, using Congressional jargon for a stopgap spending bill and debt ceiling increase with no policy changes. “That’s the path forward. There’s no need for conversations.”
Reid sought to speed up the spending vote but was blocked by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah. Cruz had set up a showdown Friday on a debate that is dividing Republicans over whether to filibuster the House-passed spending bill, which they like, to thwart Reid’s effort to amend it.
Many Republicans — including Georgia’s Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss — expect to vote to end debate Friday but against Reid’s plan to restore ACA funding, which he will be able to do with entirely Democratic votes.
The Senate is expected to vote Friday on a bill to extend government funding to Nov. 15, including the Affordable Care Act. The House could send back its own revised version over the weekend, with a government shutdown looming on Tuesday.