GOP braces for 'clean' debt vote

Greg Nash

House Republicans are increasingly resigned to voting on a “clean” bill to raise the debt ceiling now that their leadership has shelved a proposal tied to a package of conservative reforms.

Raising the $18.1 trillion debt limit before the looming Nov. 3 deadline is expected to be one of outgoing Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE’s (R-Ohio) final acts before leaving Congress at the end of the month.

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With less than two weeks to go until the date when the Treasury Department says the U.S. will default on debt obligations, House Republicans are running out of time — and options.

BoehnerJohn BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE has said he wants to clear the debt limit issue off of his successor’s plate. And with the Senate likely to take multiple days to act on legislation, that leaves a window of voting next week on a “clean” debt limit bill without preconditions.

“I think it will be relatively clean,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a Boehner ally who predicted that the vote would come by the end of next week.

House GOP leaders had been whipping a proposal authored by the Republican Study Committee (RSC) that would have raised the debt limit into 2017. But it also would have imposed a freeze on new regulations, banned the Senate from filibustering spending bills after October and prevented either chamber from adjourning in September if they haven’t finished work on appropriations bills. 

Lawmakers left a closed-door GOP conference meeting on Wednesday morning under the impression they would vote on the measure Friday. But by Thursday, GOP aides indicated that tentative plan didn’t have the votes to pass.

Many centrists and even RSC members said the proposal wasn’t realistic, noting that changing Senate rules was a nonstarter with senators of either party.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) said that while there is work yet to be done to improve the nation’s fiscal health, “this debt limit vote is not an opportunity for gimmicks or for messaging.”

RSC Chairman Bill FloresBill FloresTop conservative calls for 'less trash talk' from Trump GOP fears next Trump blowup The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE of Texas said that he had only about four hours to whip his plan, but said some of the ideas in it resonated with GOP members. He wouldn’t provide specifics. 

Even some of Boehner’s staunchest critics acknowledged they expect him to move toward a vote on a “clean” debt limit bill. The timing of the Nov. 3 deadline and next week’s Speaker election would make it difficult logistically for Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanHouse to vote on NRA-backed gun measure Congress fails on promises to restore regular order and stop funding by crisis The only common ground between Donald Trump and Paul Ryan is an "R" MORE (R-Wis.), who appears to have the votes to become Speaker, to step in and deal with the issue.

“It’s going to be very difficult for the changes that we’re talking about now to get put in place and filter their way through the system in time to deal with the debt ceiling, which means we get something rammed down our throats by Mr. Boehner,” said Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.).

A “clean” measure would likely pass with virtually all 188 Democrats and a handful of Republicans. The last debt limit hike in February 2014, for instance, passed with merely 28 Republicans.

“He’s going to pass something with 40 Republicans and [188] Democrats on his way out the door. It’s what he’s been doing. Why would we think he’s going to change now?” Mulvaney said.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a centrist who was among the handful who voted for last year’s debt limit increase, said he offered a suggestion in Wednesday’s GOP conference meeting to corral enough votes.

“If you’re having trouble getting the votes for the debt ceiling bill, here’s my suggestion. All the elected leaders of the Republican conference vote for it, and all the committee chairs, and all the members of the Ways and Means Committee,” Dent said. “We’ll call that a start. It’s how it works.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), another Boehner ally, said it is still up in the air as to whether or not there will be enticements included in a debt ceiling package that would help smooth the way for passage.  He suggested that the measure would move more easily with a “package of sorts.”

He said there is a sense of urgency within Republican ranks and that Boehner would like to get a bill done before Ryan takes over the speakership. 

“I think they’re all trying in good faith but whether or not they can get there is very unclear to me,” Cole said. 

Still, any final vote may get uncomfortably close to the deadline in less than two weeks.

"You know we don’t do anything around here until we’re up against a wall," Simpson said.