Republican Leaders Will Pick Yet Another Debt Ceiling Fight

Republicans are gearing up to pick yet another fight on the debt ceiling.

Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) office on Wednesday signaled another standoff after Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote a letter saying Congress will have to act by “late February” — sooner than expected — to raise the borrowing limit in order to avoid a potentially catastrophic default on U.S. debt.

“The Speaker has said that we should not default on our debt, or even get close to it, but a ‘clean’ debt limit increase simply won’t pass in the House,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, told TPM in an email. “We hope and expect the White House will work with us on a timely, fiscally-responsible solution.”

The remarks echo those made recently by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) that congressional Republicans won’t agree to a “clean” debt limit increase without policy add-ons or strings attached. It’s unclear what they’ll demand in return, though.

The GOP’s apparent desire for another debt ceiling fight is confounding after the party forced one last fall and surrendered one day before the deadline without extracting any concessions. President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders insist they won’t negotiate or give up anything to raise the debt ceiling, and Republicans raised (or suspended) the borrowing limit twice last year without extracting any policy concessions — after initially threatening not to both times.

It’s also notable because Republicans and Democrats wrapped up a $1.012 trillion spending bill last week, which passed on an overwhelming bipartisan vote. The debt limit has to be raised in order to finance that spending.

The remarks from Boehner’s office and other top Republicans suggest that leaders will have a hard time persuading their members not to pick another battle, even if it is futile. The Speaker said last year on Oct. 6 that the House was “not going to pass a clean debt limit increase” because there weren’t enough votes to pass one. Ten days later, he brought up a clean debt limit hike and it easily passed the House, with mostly Democratic votes. Democrats don’t take GOP threats of default seriously after they’ve proven they aren’t willing to shoot the hostage.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters last week that Democrats’ position is unchanged: lifting the debt ceiling is non-negotiable.

Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) demanded Wednesday that Republicans agree to raise the debt limit “with no strings attached.”

“With the bipartisan agreements on the budget and on funding the government for this year, we have an opportunity to move past the manufactured crises and work together on real challenges,” she said in a statement to TPM. “I hope Republicans will listen to Secretary Lew and join Democrats to ensure the U.S. pays its bills on time with no strings attached.”

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