House Republican leaders are giving up efforts to couple a U.S. debt-limit increase with measures backing the Keystone XL pipeline or revoking an Obamacare insurance provision, two party leadership aides said.
House leaders lack enough Republican support for either option, and they are looking at other possible conditions to attach to a debt-limit increase, said the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.
A debt-ceiling increase without conditions hasn’t been ruled out, said a third Republican aide. Still, it’s difficult to identify the 30 Republicans needed to join Democrats to pass a “clean” debt limit increase, that person said.
Idaho Republican Raul Labrador told reporters that Democrats are “going to reject even the most reasonable alternative” on the debt limit increase. Because Republicans don’t want a “cataclysmic fight” over the issue, it makes more sense to accept that and point out that Democrats won’t negotiate, he said.
A suspension of the federal debt limit, enacted by Congress in October, is scheduled to expire Feb. 7. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew has urged lawmakers to act quickly to raise the cap, saying the government’s ability to meet its obligations will run out before the end of this month.
Republicans so far have been unable to garner enough support for a bill that would seek to extract spending or policy concessions in exchange for raising the cap. Democrats say they won’t accept added conditions to a debt-limit boost.
House Republicans’ demands to roll back parts of the Obamacare health-care law or promote the Keystone pipeline as part of debt-ceiling increase contributed to a 16-day partial government shutdown in October. The debt limit ultimately was suspended without conditions.
Several House Republicans said today they aren’t giving up on attaching some type of provision to reduce government costs. The lawmakers spoke at an event in Washington sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, which supports limited government.
“This is a telling moment where we have to take steps to rein in the wasteful Washington spending,” said Representative Vicky Hartzler of Missouri. “We have to get something for that vote.”
Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, said his party could get enough support for a debt-ceiling increase “if you address the underlying problem” of long-term spending. “Short of that, that’s where it’s tough to get the votes,” he said.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has called the October shutdown a “predictable disaster,” and yesterday he said Republicans won’t let the U.S. default on its obligations. He told reporters that his members have “a lot of opinions about how to deal with the debt limit.”
An extension of government borrowing authority without conditions is an option because “the speaker has made it clear the debt ceiling is going to be raised” and “economically, he’s right,” Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, a Boehner ally, told reporters yesterday.
“Why don’t we skip the crisis this time?” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters yesterday. “We cannot and will not play games with the full faith and credit of our country.”
The health-care option Republicans had been considering would repeal Obamacare provisions designed to limit losses incurred by health insurers if the cost of covering an older, sicker pool of people is higher than they anticipated.
Without those provisions, insurers may have to raise premiums, further discouraging healthy people from signing up, a potential death spiral for the insurance exchanges.
Keystone advocates got a boost last week when the State Department released an environmental report finding limited impact on climate-changing carbon emissions from the project. That diminishes a rationale Obama could use to reject the proposed conduit.
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