GOP freshman unconvinced on Geithner's debt ceiling timetable

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner did little to convince freshman GOP lawmakers of the newfound urgency of raising the debt ceiling on Thursday.

House freshman lawmakers who attended the late day bicameral closed-door meeting said that Geithner’s refusal to present a “scorable” plan that would reduce the deficit in exchange for a must-pass debt limit increase, left many feeling frustrated.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who sat through most of the hour-long meeting, told The Hill that Geithner said “absolutely nothing” to convince him of the urgent need to increase the current $14.3 trillion limit by the August 2 deadline.

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If Congress does not raise the borrowing authority for the Treasury secretary by August, Chabot predicted that “we’ll have to reduce the level of spending, which I’m in favor of.”

“It just looks to me like we’re moving towards that [deadline], and the administration just assumes that we’re going to raise it, and they’re sure not going to do it with Republican votes in the House unless there was dramatic changes in the level of spending. And I don’t see this White House being willing to compromise on that,” Chabot said.

In fact, last Tuesday, the House defeated a resolution that would raise the national debt limit by the administration's requested $2.4 trillion without spending cuts or reforms, on a strong bipartisan basis. The resolution failed 97-318.

“There were a lot of groans,” from GOP freshman lawmakers when Geithner told them he didn’t ask for a vote on the doomed resolution, despite the fact that President Obama and Geithner had sent letters to Congress and “made demands” that the legislative branch vote on a clean increase, for months, according to Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.). 

Guinta continued, “He backed off on that statement, and he did allude to the fact that that was political in nature. Our response was: ‘no that was not political in nature, you asked for it, the president asked for it, we gave that to you and in a bipartisan fashion Republicans and Democrats said no to a clean raising of the debt ceiling.'”

Even though Geithner told the group that it was “lights out” on August 2 if Congress fails to increase the debt limit, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisc.) said that the House should act responsibly, not out of fear.

“I think that members of the freshman class and, I think, the Republican conference, is aware of the urgency. But we’re also acutely aware of the urgency to repair the big problem and that the idea of just carte blanche, moving it up out of fear, I don’t know that that’s the best strategy either,” Ribble explained.

Members of the historic class 87-member freshman class were unmoved by Geithner’s insistence that raising nearly $1 trillion in taxes was the answer to the problem; especially since Republicans have stated since the beginning of the heated battle that they would not vote for any debt limit extension if tax increases paid for the difference.

“The fundamental problem is, he’s advocating for tax hikes – the best argument against that is today’s jobs numbers, 54,000 new jobs when your expectation was 175, 000, unemployment goes up to 9 percent. It just doesn’t make fiscal sense to be raising taxes on businesses that are struggling just to stay afloat,” Guinta said.

Geithner told the group that a compromise must be reached within the next month – by early July – or else there would be negative effects in the market.

New Jersey freshman Rep. Jon Runyan (R) told The Hill, “I think the urgency factor isn’t the deadline, it’s the perception of the market that you are running up to that deadline. Is the market going to start to slip before that fact in anticipation, because that’s more of a soft-deadline, where’s that deadline?”

Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar (R) emerged from the meeting with Geithner exasperated because, he said that the administration doesn’t appear to have a contingency plan, and is “betting on Congress to come through and bail them out, that’s what they said.”

That answer failed to change many minds of GOP freshman lawmakers, who view similar administration responses as a legislative dare not to test Geithner’s assertion of “catastrophe” should the House fail to act by August 2.

“He has his perspective on what will happen in the stock market, what will happen with interest rates … they need to be aware that another factor that causes fear in this economy is the fear that this Congress won’t act on its spending problems," Ribble said. 

"So we have to look at the big picture, and see what it is that we can do to get the fiscal ship in the right direction so that we can begin to solve the problem long term, so that we’re not just raising the debt because we’re afraid of something."

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