Republican leaders may have placated their conservative members long enough to have prevented a catastrophic credit default this winter. But it’s far from clear they’ll be able to repeat that feat when the country’s borrowing authority expires again this summer.
During a discussion with reporters Wednesday, a panel of 10 House conservatives openly craved another debt ceiling standoff with President Obama, urging GOP leaders to follow up on the chamber’s expected passage of the Paul Ryan budget by using the debt limit as leverage to achieve their ideological goals. Among the potential demands they mentioned were dollar for dollar cuts, rolling back Obamacare and major entitlement reforms.“Any increase in the debt ceiling needs to be tied with a solution to stop us from spending money we don’t have,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), chairman of the influential and deeply conservative Republican Study Committee.
“The real tough part of the Republican agreement [earlier this year at the Williamsburg retreat] is … to take the ideas, principles and vision of this budget and put it in our debt ceiling debate with the president this summer,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS). “This is going to be where the rubber meets the road. Are we actually going to simply talk about it or are we going to pass some laws that implement these changes.”
At the Williamsburg retreat in January, Republican leaders persuaded members to accept a three-month extension of the debt ceiling in exchange for promising to sustain the lower spending levels under the sequester, rejecting all tax hikes and pushing for a budget that balances federal revenues and spending within 10 years. It’s the last part that the GOP conservatives want their leadership to force upon Obama.
“We have got to start addressing the mandatory side of the spending equation, and I think we would probably do that in the debt ceiling debate,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC).
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) isn’t keen on a repeat of 2011 — when his conference successfully used the threat of a credit default to press lofty demands — and signaled as much on Sean Hannity’s radio show last week. “Do you want to risk the full faith and credit of the United States over defunding Obamacare?” Boehner said. “That’s a very tough argument to make.”
Some House conservatives are well aware that Boehner may not be willing, if able, to take the debt ceiling hostage again after releasing it earlier this year. He could try to placate them with a fig leaf, and if that doesn’t work, he could still lift the debt ceiling with the help of Democrats, whom he’s enlisted to pass three separate bills this year.
“Let me predict what you’re going to see,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY). “I think you’re going to see a bright shiny object attached to the debt ceiling vote. There’ll be a group of us that hopes that placates the Republican base, to have that bright shiny object attached to it. It’ll be a distraction, and unfortunately I’m afraid we’re going to increase the debt ceiling without getting any real concessions to our fiscal problems.”
But that would cause Boehner significant blowback from the right.
“If that happens there’s going to be a number of us who are not going to support [it] and are not going to be happy,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), declaring that if Boehner caves on “real cuts,” he’ll have broken his promise to House Republicans. In that event, Labrador said, “I don’t think anybody here is going to support a raising of the debt ceiling.”