In debt standoff, some in GOP ask: Can't we DO something? 

At this point in the White House-congressional debt-limit talks, it's safe to say that few, if any, Republicans believe President Obama will ever negotiate in good faith.  They don't believe he will approve large and specific cuts in spending, as he has hinted throughout the talks.  And they do believe he will continue to turn the negotiations into an early contest of the 2012 campaign, threatening to shut down Social Security and blame it on Republicans.  Meanwhile, the August 2 debt-ceiling deadline fast approaches.

What to do?  For a growing number of Republicans on Capitol Hill, especially the GOP members who control the House, the answer is: Something.  Now.  With all the world's -- and the media's -- attention focused on useless talks at the White House, some Republicans are planning to take things into their own hands.

"There are a lot of options in play, and yes, the leaders have been looking at all those options," says one well-connected House GOP source.  "Certainly some sort of short-term extension is a possibility of last resort, probably much more likely than the McConnell option, which has no support in the House.  As for the [House] rank-and-file, yes there are a lot of ideas, many of which couldn't pass.  Next week, we'll vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment, and I'd expect more after that if we don't see any progress in the White House talks."

Some of the options are variations on this scenario: The House passes a short-term bill which makes X billion dollars in cuts and increases the debt limit by precisely the same amount.  Then Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, uses his parliamentary powers to force a vote on the bill, even if he has to attach it to something else.  Republicans vote for it.  In that way, House Republicans would have passed, and Senate Republicans would have voted for, a measure that both cuts spending and averts a government default.  (Many GOP leaders use the word 'default,' although what would result if there is no agreement is closer to a partial government shutdown.)  In any event, Republicans would have proposed and passed their own measure to increase the debt limit and avoid possible catastrophe.  Obama and his Democratic allies in the Senate could stop it, or the president himself could veto it if it somehow made its way through the Senate.  In any event, Obama would be the one stopping an actual measure to increase the debt ceiling.

Of course, there's been much talk to the effect that a large majority of GOP freshmen would never vote for such a bill.  "It's uncertain that a bill trading spending cuts for debt-ceiling increase at a 1-to-1 ration may pass the House; 36 members have signed the Balance Budget Act pledge, so they'd have a tough time supporting anything without this," says another GOP aide.  "Others simply will not support a debt ceiling increase -- no matter what's in it.  In addition, there seems to be a fear that if the House passes a bill which has a 100 percent chance of failing in the Senate, it will send a negative signal to the markets that we're not going to actually raise the debt ceiling or put a serious cut in spending.  McConnell can't pass a 1-to-1 spending cut/debt limit increase on the Senate side."

"That might be tough," agrees a Senate aide.

But the talks going on at the White House seem guaranteed to fail.  Why not put to the test some of these suppositions about who will or will not vote for this bill or that bill?  That's precisely what some Republicans are planning to do.  "The GOP needs to add to these 'negotiations' with additional legislation," says yet another House aide, "and I would hope to see further legislative efforts on the House side in the coming days."

Proponents of the "cut, cap and balance" approach to the problem in the Senate will be announcing a similar approach in the House.  The plan -- cutting spending in 2012, placing a statutory cap on future spending, and passing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution -- has a lot of support in the Senate.  But does it have to pass Congress in its current form?  Will a majority of members, faced with votes on other proposals, stand firm on the idea that they will never vote for a way out of the current standoff that does not involve amending the Constitution?  Some Republicans believe it's time to put those suppositions to a real-world test. A cut-and-cap bill, or perhaps just a cut bill, accompanied by a deficit-neutral increase in the debt limit, would deeply disappoint some "cut, cap and balance" supporters -- but they might, in the end, vote for it.

The point is, an increasing number of Republicans are saying this: White House talks are going nowhere, and with President Obama in charge, they're never going to go anywhere.  Republicans control the House of Representatives.  They have 47 votes in the Senate. They can do something.  Maybe a number of measures will fail before one passes, but it is time for Republicans to act on their own.  Then President Obama can react.  Maybe he'll block it, but he'll be under conflicting pressures himself.  With August 2 approaching, the time to take action is now.

About The Author

Byron York


Byron York is the Examiner’s chief political correspondent. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He blogs throughout the week at Beltway Confidential.

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