GOP leaders try to change the subject

House GOP leaders are shifting their members’ focus to the debt-ceiling fight, which they have long seen as offering better leverage than a government-funding bill.

Republicans are looking at a buffet of GOP priorities that could accompany a yearlong increase to the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, including modest changes to entitlements and a one-year delay of ObamaCare.

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The debt-limit plan, which is expected to be unveiled after a private Thursday morning GOP conference meeting, could be a way to convince rank-and-file Republicans to fight their spending and healthcare battles there rather than on a government-funding bill.

GOP leaders are still trying to feel out which plan would pass muster with their rank and file, but a vote could come as soon as Saturday to boost the borrowing cap.

A House Republican wish list circulating on K Street indicates that in addition to delaying the healthcare reform law as part of a debt-limit increase, the GOP also hopes to kick-start tax reform, permit the Keystone XL pipeline and trim a slew of federal regulations.

The list, which a GOP leadership aide says is still in flux, also includes modest entitlement reforms. Party members remain divided on whether to pursue such changes as a debt-limit demand. House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said one “or maybe two” items had been added to the list since leaders last met Friday.

The large slate of stalled GOP initiatives underlines the emphasis party leaders have placed on the debt ceiling as the real fiscal battleground.

Obtained from a K Street source, the list indicates that Republicans would agree to hike the borrowing limit through 2014 and the next federal elections, but only in exchange for a host of GOP priorities likely to be met with strong opposition from Democrats.

The parties have about three weeks to hammer out a debt-limit deal; Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Congress Wednesday that the government faces an Oct. 17 deadline for raising the ceiling. He told Congress that the government would be left with just $30 billion in cash reserves on that date while facing as much as $60 billion in payments each day. However, the Congressional Budget Office offered a bit more time in its analysis, saying it expects the Treasury to exhaust its cash reserves sometime between Oct. 22 and the end of the month.

As House Republicans lined up their demands, the White House on Wednesday showed no signs of flinching from its long held position of refusing to negotiate at all over a borrowing boost. Lew, who met with the president Wednesday, reiterated that in his letter to lawmakers, and it appeared Obama’s allies on Capitol Hill remained on board with the strategy.

But Republicans contended the position remains untenable and that eventually the White House will have to begin haggling.

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“The administration’s got to get off their duff and negotiate some changes at the end, like they claim they’re not willing to do,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said. The proposed GOP debt-limit package contains a handful of “economic growth provisions,” as well as between $192 billion and $256 billion in budget savings stemming from cuts to entitlement programs and other trims.

Besides delaying the entire healthcare law for a year, Republicans will likely try to eliminate a fund for prevention and public health programs, which the administration has tapped to pay for other parts of ObamaCare implementation.

The GOP would eliminate a loophole that allows states to drive up the federal government’s share of Medicaid spending, which Republicans say would save $11 billion.

Republicans will likely propose requiring wealthier seniors to pay more for their Medicare benefits, an idea Obama has endorsed.

The list also includes medical malpractice reform and cuts in federal payments to certain hospitals. It also takes aim at Obama’s other big, first-term legislative win: the Wall Street reform law.

The list indicates Republicans want to repeal a power granted to banking regulators to step in and temporarily use taxpayer funds to wind down failing financial institutions.

Funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would be altered under the plan, seemingly in a way to bring its budget under the control of Congress, a longstanding GOP priority.

The list suggests the measure would force Obama to approve the Keystone pipeline, increase energy production offshore and on federal lands, and block greenhouse gas regulations.

It would eliminate the Social Service Block Grant program, which gives states funds to spend on services of their choosing.

The list includes a number of major regulatory changes, including the REINS Act, a bill pushed by House Republicans that would require Congress to sign off on any major regulations.