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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Saturday, October 03, 2015

Debt-Ceiling Deadline Puts New Pressure on Boehner - Outgoing speaker may need to rely on Democrats to increase the limit before he leaves office


From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—A new early November deadline puts fresh pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to spend his last month in Congress wrangling fellow Republicans to do something they loathe: raising the debt ceiling.

Late Thursday, the Treasury Department said the federal government would need to increase its borrowing limit by Nov. 5, less than a week after Mr. Boehner leaves Congress. House Republicans will hold elections to pick his successor in the coming week, but few want to force a new speaker to deal with such an uncomfortable task right away.

“I really think that Speaker Boehner will try to get this addressed before he leaves office,” said Rep. Bill Flores of Texas, chairman of the Republican Study Committee. “He’s trying to get all the difficult votes out of the way.”

Mr. Boehner, of Ohio, said this past week there were “a number of issues” he would try to tackle this month in an effort to help out his likely successor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

Many Republicans have balked in the past over voting to raise the debt ceiling, forcing Mr. Boehner to turn to Democrats to pass legislation enabling the U.S. government to pay its bills on time. Those votes helped stoke conservative ire against Mr. Boehner for years, leading up to his decision to resign.

Ahead of Nov. 5, many Republicans said they would want to secure reductions in federal spending in exchange for voting to raise the debt limit, now at $18.1 trillion. Treasury has used emergency measures to avoid breaching the debt cap since mid-March.

“For the debt-ceiling increase to get a sizable number of Republican votes, it will require spending reductions,” said Rep. Luke Messer (R., Ind.), a member of House GOP leadership.

But lawmakers said it would be very difficult to reach a long-term budget agreement in the next month. Congress this past week passed a stopgap spending bill that expires Dec. 11, but Republicans and Democrats remain at odds over whether to set funding levels above limits established in a 2011 deficit-reduction deal.

President Barack Obama said Friday he wouldn’t sign another short-term spending bill in December.

“Congress has to do its job,” he said. “We can’t flirt with another shutdown.”

Mr. Obama noted that raising the debt ceiling doesn’t approve new government spending. Instead, it allows the government to borrow to pay debts it has already incurred.

“We’re not going to negotiate on that. It has to get done in the next five weeks,” Mr. Obama said. “If it gets messed with, it would have profound implications for the global economy.”

In a 2011 impasse over the debt ceiling, the Treasury came within days of being unable to pay certain benefits such as Social Security. That fight ended with an agreement to raise the limit by $2.4 trillion and cut spending by about that much money over time. Just after that deal, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S.’s triple-A credit rating for the first time, citing the nation’s political instability.

In February 2014, the House passed a debt-ceiling increase with no equivalent spending cuts, primarily with Democratic support. In recent years, Congress has extended the government’s borrowing authority for months at a time rather than approving a specific dollar increase.

One question is whether Mr. Boehner would be willing to again rely on Democrats on his way out the door.

“He really is free,” Rep. Scott Rigell (R., Va.) said of the speaker. Republicans noted that debt-ceiling increases typically need support from both parties, given opposition in recent years from the GOP’s right wing.

“There’s going to be a bipartisan group that raises the debt ceiling is my guess,” said Rep. Bob Dold (R., Ill.), who said he wanted to see an agreement cut “wasteful Washington spending.”

If Mr. Boehner were to pass a debt-ceiling increase, likely relying on Democratic votes, Mr. McCarthy would be spared having to deal with such a contentious issue in his first week. But he would still have to face difficult decisions about whether to support such a bill. He was one of only 28 House Republicans who voted for the February 2014 debt-limit increase.

Conservatives weighing whether to vote for Mr. McCarthy as speaker will likely press him to pledge not to bring up an increase in the debt limit without significant spending cuts. Rep. Daniel Webster (R., Fla) is also running for speaker, and other candidates could still emerge.

The most conservative House Republicans are wary that Mr. Boehner may try to push through a raft of legislation before he leaves, including a long-term highway bill and a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which has bipartisan support. Centrist Republicans this past week started an effort to bring a bill reopening the bank to the floor without the consent of GOP leaders.

Mr. Boehner’s office said Thursday it had received Treasury’s new debt-ceiling deadline and had no further comment Friday.

Less debt-ceiling drama is expected in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has repeatedly said his chamber would act to ensure the government can pay its bills on time.

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