House Republicans May Want Senate to Take Up Debt Limit

House Republicans are considering insisting that the Democratic-led Senate act first on a debt limit increase the U.S. Treasury Department said will be needed by the end of February.

“We’d like to see their plan put forward,” Representative Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, told reporters today. McHenry said at a House policy retreat in Cambridge, Maryland, that he’s spoken to House Republican leaders about the plan.

“I’d like to see if Harry Reid can assemble his Democrat majority to produce a plan,” McHenry said of the Senate’s majority leader. “Then we’ll be happy to receive it in the House, consider it and start negotiations.”

Many Republicans say they don’t want to take the same hard-line debt and budget approach they did last year that led to a 16-day partial government showdown. By allowing the Democratic-led Senate to act first, House Republicans would signal they’re willing to let Democrats take the lead.

“I thought it was a dumb strategy,” Illinois Republican Representative Adam Kinziger said of the October shutdown fight. “The American people and our base wants us to fight, but at the end of the day, they want us to govern.”

Senator Ted Cruz today vowed to use a debate over raising the federal debt limit as leverage to extract a new round of U.S. spending cuts, even as House Speaker John Boehner told reporters that defaulting would be “the wrong thing” for the country.

Cruz’s Stance

Cruz, the Texas Republican who led the fight to defund Obamacare that contributed to the shutdown in October, said today he wouldn’t give in to Democratic demands to raise the debt limit without conditions.

“We should not raise the debt ceiling without significant structural reforms that address the out of control spending and out of control debt in Washington,” Cruz said at a Bloomberg Government breakfast. “The debt ceiling is the natural lever point to address the out-of-control spending and debt. It has historically been the most effective lever point to doing so.”

Cruz, 43, attracted national attention in September when he controlled the Senate floor for 21 hours, arguing against Obamacare, and at one point reading Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” to fill time. Cruz is a leading voice among lawmakers aligned with the small-government Tea Party movement.

Cruz’s comments came as Boehner, an Ohio Republican, refused to say whether House Republicans would seek to attach spending reductions to a debt-ceiling increase.

‘Wrong Thing’

“We believe that defaulting on our debt is the wrong thing,” Boehner said today. “We don’t want to do that. And so we’re going to have a conversation this afternoon about the way forward on this issue.”

House Republicans are holding a policy retreat in Cambridge, Maryland, today and tomorrow to plan their strategy for raising the federal borrowing cap four months after a dispute over funding the government brought the U.S to the brink of default.

Oregon Representative Greg Walden said today that Republicans have been chastened by the shutdown fight.

The party has “to be very thoughtful about our approach and make sure that whatever lever you think you’re grabbing actually is connected to something in terms of its power and that you aren’t going to be forced to let it go at some point,” said Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm for House Republicans.

That doesn’t mean Republicans won’t seek conditions. House members are wary about insisting on something they know they can’t get, such as defunding or repealing Obamacare.

Keystone Pipeline

Republicans have previously discussed conditions including approval of the TransCanada Corp. Keystone XL pipeline and rolling back Environmental Protection Agency regulations and rules they say harm energy companies, as those that could be coupled with the debt and sold as pro-jobs measures.

“If we try to get something, we can’t shoot for the moon and be unrealistic, because then you disappoint your base when you don’t get it,” Kinzinger said in an interview.

Kinzinger declined to say whether he would support a clean debt limit, saying the question was “hypothetical.”

“The United States should never default on its debt,” he said. “That said, I think it’s irresponsible for a president to say that we’re not going to tie something to get our serious problem under control,” Kinzinger told reporters.

Borrowing Limit

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said Congress should raise the debt ceiling as soon as possible, and that the U.S. will reach its borrowing limit by late February.

President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada have said Democrats won’t accept any conditions on raising the debt ceiling.

Obama shouldn’t get the “blank check” he’s seeking to raise the debt ceiling without structural changes to address the underlying causes of the nation’s debt, Cruz, a freshman senator, said in an interview today with Bloomberg Television.

Cruz, in the interview, accused Obama and congressional Democrats of acting as a “scare monger” by playing up the possibility of a U.S. default to gain political advantage.

“I intend to continue fighting as hard as I possibly can to make D.C. listen, to force this town to address the real problems so we can pull back from this fiscal and economic cliff, because the window to turn this around is not long,” Cruz said.

Dismantling Obamacare

He said he remains committed to repealing and dismantling Obama’s 2010 health-care law. When pressed today on whether he would reprise the battle over the law as part of the debt-ceiling debate, Cruz in the Bloomberg Government breakfast said he preferred to focus on spending cuts.

Cruz predicted that the health law would be repealed during Obama’s presidency, maintaining that the backlash against Obamacare would lead Republicans to win enough seats in November for a Senate majority. If the House and Senate were both under Republican control, keeping the law in place would prove untenable politically, he said.

“I think 2014 is going to be an incredible year at the ballot box,” Cruz said. “It’s going to be like 2010 in terms of the magnitude.”

He credited last fall’s Republican effort to defund the law with “elevating the debate over the harms that Obamacare is causing,” adding that was a “spectacularly foolish decision” for Senate Democrats to be defending the law.

“How do we repeal Obamacare? We continue making the case to the American people,” Cruz said.