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House GOP's New Debt Limit Strategy: Force Dems To Pass A Budget

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Wrapping up their annual retreat on Friday, GOP leaders unveiled their plan: they intend to pass legislation that raises the country's borrowing authority for three months, and establish that if Congress fails to approve a budget in that time, members will not be paid.

In Speaker John Boehner's words: "No budget, no pay."

"Next week, we will authorize a three month temporary debt limit increase to give the Senate and House time to pass a budget," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said in a statement. "Furthermore, if the Senate or House fails to pass a budget in that time, Members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job."

Under the plan, if one chamber passes a budget but the other doesn't, then only members of the chamber that passed a budget will get paid, a House GOP leadership aide told TPM.

The change in strategy reflects a major concession from the House GOP's demand that each dollar of debt limit increase come alongside a dollar in spending cuts, and it's not yet clear that conservative House members will be on board. But it's a sign that although GOP leaders saw their initial position as unsustainable, they aren't prepared to fully back down on their desire to use the debt ceiling as leverage to move the needle on budget issues.

"Before there is any long-term debt limit increase, a budget should be passed that cuts spending," said Boehner. "The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget for four years. That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year."

The GOP's new approach was met with immediate resistance from the office of Democratic Sen. Patty Murray (WA), the chair of the Budget Committee.

"As Senator Cornyn said today, Republican threats to play politics with the debt limit are nothing more than a negotiating ploy, so we expect them to allow us to raise the debt limit so the government can pay the bills it has already accrued," Eli Zupnick, Murray's spokesman, told TPM in an email. "Republicans should stop using these threats of default to hold our economy hostage, and as always, we are ready to work with them to determine the most productive path toward ending these constant crises and moving toward a balanced, bipartisan, and comprehensive budget deal."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) spokesman Adam Jentleson said Democrats will consider a clean debt limit increase if the House can pass it.

"It is reassuring to see Republicans beginning to back off their threat to hold our economy hostage," Jentleson said in a statement. "If the House can pass a clean debt ceiling increase to avoid default and allow the United States to meet its existing obligations, we will be happy to consider it. As President Obama has said, this issue is too important to middle class families' economic security to use as a ploy for collecting a ransom. We have an obligation to pay the bills we have already incurred -- bills for which many House Republicans voted."

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.