Senate GOP to reject Reid plan to push debt limit until next year

Senate Republicans plan to block Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) bid to push the debt limit until Dec. 31, 2014, increasing the nation’s borrowing authority by an estimated $1.1 trillion.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), a pivotal centrist Republican, on Wednesday called Reid’s legislation “politically transparent.”

“We just do a clean increase for the next year to get us beyond the election? I’m sorry. We’re asking for transparency around here, but that’s about as politically transparent as anything I can think of,” she said.

The Senate Republican caucus now seems near unanimous that Reid is playing political games. And that likely blocks Reid’s plan to pass a clean 14-month debt-limit increase to put pressure on House Republicans to act.

Reid followed a similar game plan the last time Congress faced a major fiscal impasse. The Senate pressured the House to accept tax increases on the wealthy by passing a bipartisan bill on the New Year’s Day deadline.

Reid argues it is the Republicans who are playing games by holding the nation’s credit rating hostage in order to appease Tea Party activists and super wealthy conservative donors.

“Republicans and Democrats may have our differences, but neither side should hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage while we resolve them,” he said.

Some Republicans expressed willingness to vote for a clean bill to raise the debt limit, but they have since backed away from anything that would extend borrowing authority for more than a few weeks without spending reforms in return.

“Nobody’s going to buy that on our side,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).  

“It’s irresponsible to do nothing about the debt, and it’s irresponsible to be stirring up anxiety about default,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

“But that doesn’t mean the American people are wrong to ask that a debt-limit increase include reforms aimed at actually tackling the problems that got us here in the first place,” he added.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), emerging from a meeting with colleagues, said “virtually all of us” would vote to sustain a filibuster.

Instead, several Republican senators have floated proposals they hope could lay the groundwork for a bipartisan deal to reopen the government and avoid a default.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been at the center of these efforts.

He has worked closely with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on a plan to reopen the government, repeal the medical device tax — while offsetting the cost of doing so — and give federal agencies flexibility to manage the automatic cuts known as sequestration.

“I think John wants a solution, too,” said Graham, one of McCain’s closest allies. “We’re all talking to each other and our Democratic colleagues. We’re trying to find a way forward for the country. What Susan’s done is very constructive.”

Collins’s plan has yet to gain traction with Democrats, however.

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats, said he does not want to set a precedent of granting concessions in exchange for keeping the government open and out of default.

“I think it’s a creative proposal, but what I’m struggling with is whether we ought to be negotiating in this circumstance,” he said.  

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said he has had multiple conversations with McCain but nothing has come to fruition yet.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has proposed pairing a debt-ceiling increase with both tax reform and $600 billion in savings from entitlement program changes that President Obama endorsed in his budget. Portman’s plan would fund the government through the end of fiscal 2014 at the level set in the Budget Control Act.

A Senate GOP aide said Portman is talking with red-state Democrats who want spending reforms.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has spoken with colleagues about linking a budget deal to reforms to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that would save $1 trillion over the next decade.

Corker, an emerging Senate deal-maker, said Tuesday he would not support a clean increase in the debt ceiling.

Senators said the Republican leadership is whipping rank-and-file members to vote against Reid’s debt-limit bill.

When asked about colleagues’ predictions that the Democratic proposal would fall short of the 60-vote threshold needed to advance, Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, “I sure hope that’s right.”

Reid might not be able to keep his caucus unified behind a clean long-term debt-ceiling increase.

Centrist Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) declined to state their positions on the legislation Wednesday.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), another centrist, told reporters Tuesday that it would make sense to discuss deficit reduction in connection with increased borrowing authority.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who said Monday he could vote for a clean debt-ceiling increase, qualified his answer the following day.

A GOP aide said Kirk would support a short-term increase but not Reid’s bill to push the debt ceiling beyond the 2014 midterm election.

Sen. Jeff Chiesa, a centrist Republican from New Jersey, said he was leery of passing a yearlong debt-limit increase without spending cuts.

“I’m concerned that we’re going to raise it without taking some long-term measures on the spending side,” he said.

Durbin said Reid would move ahead with a vote to end debate and advance the 14-month debt-limit increase, even if he is not certain of having enough votes.