Republicans Brace For Surrender On The Debt Ceiling


Republicans are looking for ways to defuse the fight they’ve threatened to pick over the debt ceiling, having concluded that they’re likely destined for defeat.

The fatalism reflects the fact that House GOP leaders are boxed in both by Democrats who’ll refuse to vote for a debt limit hike with policy add-ons, and by a significant faction of conservatives who aren’t interested in voting for any increase in the federal borrowing limit.

“We don’t want to have a government crisis. That’s one of the reasons why we had a budget agreement, which prevented two possible shutdowns from occurring this year,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Tuesday night on CBS News. After taking some shots at President Barack Obama, he signaled that Republicans won’t follow through with the fight.

“We will not default,” Ryan said. “I will not — no. I don’t think the full [faith and credit of the United States] — no, it will not be in jeopardy again.”

Republican lawmakers and top aides surveyed by TPM this week showed little or no confidence that they can win such a battle. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) realizes he probably cannot secure enough votes to pass any debt limit bill out of the House with policy conditions attached. And if by some miracle he does, he’ll then have to deal with a Democratic-led Senate and White House who are refusing to negotiate over the issue, and used the same stance to force the GOP to pass two debt limit extensions last year without any policy reforms.

“I don’t think Republicans want to default on our debt. Secondly, the president’s made clear he doesn’t want to negotiate,” Boehner said on Tuesday. “And so the options available continue to be narrower in terms of how we address the issue of the debt ceiling, but I’m confident we’ll be able to find a way.”

House Republicans will discuss the issue at their annual conference retreat over the next few days, and may announce a plan of action. The most they’re likely to get is a fig leaf — a shiny object for politicking which lacks direct policy implications, as they got early in 2013 when they conditioned a debt limit hike on Senate Democrats passing a nonbinding budget resolution. Last fall, after threatening to default, Republicans capitulated without so much as a fig leaf.

Notably, this time the usual suspects — including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), House conservatives and tea party lobbying groups like Heritage Action and Club For Growth — aren’t making demands or pushing Republican leaders into battle. With the 2014 elections around the corner, even elements of GOP’s right flank privately admit that a debt limit fight is a high-risk proposition with no clear endgame.

Democrats, meanwhile, say resistance to a “clean” debt ceiling increase is futile.

“Republican leaders proved at the end of last year that they weren’t going to actually follow the tea party off the cliff and let the federal government default,” Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) said Wednesday. “So let me be very clear, Democrats aren’t going to negotiate over whether or not the government should pay its bills. And if Republicans continue down this path of empty threats and dangerous demands, they will get exactly what they got the last time they tried to play politics with our economic recovery: nothing.”