Reeling from Ryan budget, Republicans wary of debt deal vote

Some House Republicans who supported Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget are wary of voting to increase the nation’s debt ceiling, fearing a barrage of campaign ads in the 2012 election.

Republican officials say the dynamic of two tough votes so close to one another reminds them of when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) scheduled floor votes on climate change and healthcare reform in 2009. A year later, Democrats lost control of the lower chamber.

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One well-connected GOP insider said Ryan’s budget is “our version of cap-and-trade.” 

The source, who requested anonymity, added that Republican “rank-and-file members are very, very concerned that this was the canary in the coalmine on Medicare and it’s going to affect all of the other difficult votes that leadership is going to ask them to make.” 

All but four House GOP lawmakers supported Ryan’s budget blueprint two months ago. Since then, Democrats have seized on that vote, repeatedly claiming that Ryan’s measure would “end Medicare as we know it.” Political analysts contend Medicare played a major role in New York Democrat Kathy Hochul’s upset win in a special election to replace former Rep. Chris Lee (R) on May 24.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who backed Ryan’s legislation, said, “I don’t think you are going to see a lot of Republicans — after what they’ve done on Medicare — willing to put their necks out any more before the next election, because the heads were already chopped off in New York and all the demagoguery.” 

The GOP source said the House Republican freshmen have been experiencing the fallout from supporting Ryan’s plan, saying, “This is going to be a problem down the road. There’s no fixing this, and the next time these guys come to them on something like the debt ceiling, these guys are going to say no.” 

Rutgers political science Professor Ross Baker said Republicans will have a tough decision on raising the debt ceiling, even if it is attached to major spending cuts: “Basically, it is exposing yourself a second time to a potentially lethal vote.” 

Baker added “there’s only so many times you can get people to walk the plank.” 

Most Republicans don’t want to raise the debt limit without exacting an equal amount of spending cuts, which would mean cutting trillions in spending or reforming entitlement programs. Last week Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told House freshman lawmakers he envisioned nearly $1 trillion in tax hikes, but Republicans say tax increases are a non-starter. 

Barring such changes, Republicans are making it clear that they do not support raising the current $14.3 trillion debt limit. Some Republicans have already said they will vote no on the debt-limit bill, no matter what is in it.

GOP leaders have attempted to give their rank-and-file cover by holding a recent vote on a clean debt-ceiling extension for the administration’s request of $2.4 trillion. 

Though it was soundly defeated, 97-318, it’s unclear whether that will be enough to sway members to vote yes on the deal Republicans will presumably strike with the White House. 

While some House Democrats might feel pressure to back President Obama on the debt deal he irons out with the GOP, others have said it is up to the party in the majority to pass such a bill. Not one Republican voted to raise the debt ceiling in the last Congress. 

Chabot said that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) is “chomping at the bit” to “demagogue on Medicare, that’s all we’re going to hear for the next year and a half.”

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that other factors were more to blame for the Republican loss in New York’s 26th district, but he has acknowledged Medicare was part of the reason why Democrats won.

Boehner emphasized GOP House leaders are holding listening sessions with rank-and-file members on the debt-ceiling issue, as well as more messaging-focused meetings on Ryan’s budget. 

Privately, many Republicans are hoping that Ryan’s budget plan will become less of an issue after an agreement is reached on the debt ceiling. Democrats are refusing to embrace Medicare reforms similar to Ryan’s, but they are open to finding savings in the politically popular entitlement program.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed to reject a deal that does not call for changes to Medicare. Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democrats have said they will oppose any bill that includes cuts to Medicare.

This last graph of this article was amended on June 10 at 5:08 p.m.