House GOP unveils six-week debt hike that continues shutdown

Anne Wernikoff

House Republican leaders will offer President Obama a six-week extension of the nation’s debt limit that would not end the government shutdown now in its 10th day.

In exchange, Republicans want a commitment from the White House to negotiate a longer-term budget plan that would reopen the government.

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Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) presented the proposal to rank-and-file Republicans in a closed-door meeting Thursday, hours before more than a dozen GOP lawmakers head to the White House to meet with Obama.

“It is our hope that the president will look at this as an opportunity and a good-faith effort on our part to move halfway, halfway to what he’s demanded in order to have these conversations begin,” Boehner told reporters after the meeting.

Boehner said the ending of the shutdown would depend on how the president responded.

“That’s the conversation we’re going to have with the president today,” he said.

The Speaker acknowledged that the fiscal crisis that has gripped the capital could come back if no agreement is reached by Nov. 22, the date that Republicans would set as the new debt-limit deadline.

“Clearly, you could end up back in the same place, and we don’t want to be here,” Boehner said.

The House hopes to move quickly on the plan, but a vote would not occur before the White House meeting, scheduled for 4:30 p.m., aides said.

The debt limit bill would also restrict the Treasury Department from using "extraordinary measures" to increase borrowing after Nov. 22, aides said.

"The date in the bill is the real date — no more monkeying around," a leadership aide said.

A separate resolution would appoint Republican negotiators for a House-Senate budget conference committee, which Democrats have demanded for months.

It is far from clear that the Speaker’s plan would succeed, either with Democrats or with members of his own conference.

The White House on Thursday reiterated Obama’s demand that the GOP both lift the $16.7 trillion debt limit and reopen the government before negotiations begin.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced plans for a procedural vote Saturday on legislation to raise the debt ceiling by $1 trillion and through the end of 2014.

The White House backs the longer extension, but it is unclear whether Reid can muster the 60 votes necessary to pass it.

A White House official said Thursday that the administration was “willing to look at any proposal Congress puts forward,” while again insisting that Obama would “not pay a ransom" and preferred a longer debt-ceiling extension.

“It is better for economic certainty for Congress to take the threat of default off the table for as long as possible, which is why we support the Senate Democrats’ efforts to raise the debt limit for a year with no extraneous political strings attached,” the official said.

The official also said that Obama would be willing to negotiate a broader budget agreement only after Republicans pass a debt-ceiling increase and reopen the government.

“We will not allow a faction of the Republicans in the House to hold the economy hostage to its extraneous and extreme political demands,” the official said.

Backers of Boehner's proposal said it did not give too much ground to the White House.

“We haven't changed our position — only the timeline,” conservative Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said.

Inside the Republican meeting, however, the proposal drew criticism both from conservatives, who viewed it as a capitulation, and from more centrist members, who asked that the House also vote to reopen the government for the same period of time.

“I want to see a reopening of the government on a temporary basis, but I don’t want to undermine what happens at the White House today,” Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said.

Conservative Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) pressed for more cuts.

“I would feel much more comfortable if we were addressing the causes of the problem, which are these out of control deficits,” Brooks said.

Boehner allies predicted the plan would get conference support in the end, however.

“There is some disagreement in there. My sense is that they will [support it],” Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) said.

He said most opposition was over continuing the shutdown, but keeping the government closed could make sense.

“Keeping the government shut down in this forces action,” Campbell said.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said the conference needed “some type of win out of this” — and more than just getting Obama to the table.

“We’ve been in a fight with the CR [continuing resolution], and you’re not going to just arbitrarily say, ‘Oh, OK, we fold,” Westmoreland told The Hill.

“I think just the president willing to negotiate is some sort of a win,” Westmoreland added. “But we need something a little bit more than a moral win.”

Asked if federal workers could face no paychecks until after Thanksgiving, members said they hoped Obama would negotiate a solution within days, if not weeks.

“I certainly hope that’s not the case,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas).

Stocks soared on the news of the offer, with the Dow Jones average rising more than 180 points in early trading.

The administration has set an Oct. 17 deadline for raising the debt ceiling, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned senators Thursday that a new recession could set in if the limit is not raised.

The warnings have raised the pressure on both sides to deal, but Republicans might feel especially under the gun.

A survey from Gallup released Wednesday found the party had a 28 percent approval rating, a sharp 10-percentage-point drop in the last month and the worst rating Gallup had ever polled for a party.

— Bernie Becker and Emily Goodin contributed to this story.