GOP Already Eyes Next Fiscal Fight: Debt Ceiling

6:34 PM, Dec 17, 2013   |    comments
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Susan Davis, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - When one Washington budget battle ends, another is just beginning.

With the U.S. Senate on track to approve a two-year budget framework Wednesday - which President Obama will sign before he heads to Hawaii on Friday - congressional Republicans have begun laying the groundwork for a 2014 confrontation over the nation's debt limit.

"I doubt if the House, or for that matter the Senate, is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday, "Every time the president asks us to raise the debt ceiling is a good time to try to achieve something important for the country."

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told Fox News Sunday that Republicans will gather in January at their annual retreat to "discuss what it is we want to get out of the debt limit." He added: "We don't want nothing out of this debt limit."

In the past, Republicans have said they could consider anything from the creation of a new oil pipeline to a federal tax code overhaul in exchange for their support to raise the nation's borrowing limit.

However, Obama and congressional Democrats say they will no longer entertain negotiations over raising the debt limit because it threatens economic stability and past confrontations have come at an economic cost.

"We do not expect Republicans to walk that path again, precisely because it proved to be so disastrous for them politically and, more importantly, for the economy and for the middle class when they went down that path in October," White House spokesman Jay Carney said this week, referring to the budget confrontation that led to a 16-day partial shutdown and threatened a debt default in October.

The debt limit confrontation is stirring just as Congress is poised to enact a bipartisan budget framework that diffuses the threat of another government shutdown by establishing overall federal spending levels for the next two years. It also partially alleviates unpopular across-the-board cuts known as the sequester and offers some modest deficit reduction.

Senate Republicans have chafed at the compromise, in large part because it raises spending levels from last year. Only 12 Republicans joined Democrats to clear a procedural hurdle Tuesday on a 67-33 vote, setting up a vote on final passage Wednesday. Some of those dozen have already said they will oppose the final bill.

Six of the seven GOP senators facing conservative primary challenges in the 2014 elections opposed the deal, including McConnell and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. The vote underscored the sensitive intraparty politics of the ongoing budget wars in which conservative activists and Tea Party-aligned candidates continue to advocate for tougher fiscal reforms than a divided Washington has been able to deliver.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he doubts another battle looms. "I can't imagine the Republicans want another fight on debt ceiling," he told reporters, saying Congress should approve another debt ceiling increase when the need arises.

The timing of the potential clash is unclear. The October budget agreement that ended the shutdown suspended the debt ceiling through early February. However, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said it is unlikely the U.S. Treasury will need a debt ceiling increase before March, and depending on how much revenue the government takes in, the date could shift until May or June.

"One of the problems or concerns I have with the debt limit is we don't know when it's going to hit," Ryan told Fox. "So the timing of this is very much in doubt."

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