Debt ceiling fight looms as GOP mulls what policy changes to attach
It seems incredible that the Democrats can go through 8 years of the Bush presidency, adding rider after rider to debt ceiling bills, and now claim that President Obama deserves a "clean" debt increase.
But that's the reality. And since no one is going to remind the American people that previous Democratic congresses routinely used the debt limit increase to advance policy goals, it seems probable that all the pressure to play ball with the White House will fall on Republicans.
Republican lawmakers insisted Sunday that any increase in the nation's borrowing authority should have policy changes attached, a demand at odds with White House officials and Senate Democrats, who held firm in their position that Congress must pass a "clean" debt-limit increase.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), appearing on "Fox News Sunday," said it was "irresponsible" and "unreasonable" for President Barack Obama to call on Congress to raise the debt ceiling without being open to policy changes.
White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer countered that Republicans should "spare the country the drama" of another fiscal showdown like the one that led to a government shutdown in October.
"The American people should not have to pay the Republicans in Congress' ransom for doing their most basic function, which is paying the bills," Mr. Pfeiffer said on "Fox News Sunday."
Democrats and Republicans girding for another political fight over increasing the nation's debt limit do not have a lot of time to debate the issue. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, in a letter to Congress last week, said the U.S. government would exhaust its borrowing powers by late February without action by Congress.
The White House and Senate Democrats have repeatedly said they are not open to negotiating with Republicans on policy changes in return for increasing the debt ceiling. Mr. Pfeiffer confirmed that position Sunday and was echoed by top Democratic leaders.
"We don't want to risk the full faith and credit. We can debate all of these other issues at a different time and place," Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Republicans lawmakers have already begun to consider what policy riders they could attach to a debt-ceiling increase to force negotiations. House Republicans leaders are mulling a number of discrete policy changes, including some to the 2010 health-care law, as their opening gambit in negotiations with Democrats. A decision on how to proceed is likely to come after a House GOP retreat in Maryland at the end of this week.
Republicans have been considering specific policy goals like approval of the Keystone pipeline, delay of Obamacare's individual mandate, some kind of entitlement reform, and even a request for a special prosecutor to look into the IRS scandal.
None of those seem likely to be accepted by the Democrats, so it is probable that the GOP will seek to achieve more modest goals. One intruiging idea that's been advanced before is to tie a debt ceiling limit to a certain percentage of budget cuts. It wouldn't be dollar for dollar, but it might advance the ball on reducing the deficit.
Whatever the GOP decides, they better do it quickly.