GOP debt ceiling uncertainty grows

GOP debt ceiling uncertainty grows

Congressional Republicans are uncertain about the best path forward now that the deadline for increasing the nation’s debt ceiling is approaching faster than expected.

Lawmakers had expected that a hike to the debt limit wouldn’t be needed until later this year. But due to revenue falling short of expectations, the Trump administration now says it might exhaust its “extraordinary measures” to avoid default by late summer. 

In the past, Republicans have sought policy concessions for an increase in the debt limit. But it remains to be seen whether they will pursue that same strategy now that they control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

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“I think it’s going to be complicated, given the other things we have to do, to try and attach a lot of policy to the debt limit,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Republican in the Senate and a member of the Senate Finance Committee. 

“We’re going to have budget, debt ceiling, tax reform, a whole bunch of things sort of hitting at the same time.” 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has urged lawmakers to pass a “clean” increase in the debt ceiling — essentially new borrowing authority with no strings attached — before they leave town in August for a five-week recess.

Failure to pass an increase, the administration says, would result in the first-ever U.S. default on its debt, which could send borrowing costs booming and potentially ignite a financial firestorm.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.) said the timetable for debt ceiling would move up, given the administration’s latest warnings.

“We're going to be talking with our members and with the administration on how to resolve the debt ceiling,” he said. 

But an increase in the debt limit is no easy task, threatening to stoke division in the GOP. 

Conservatives have in the past demanded concessions in return for an increase to the borrowing limit, most notably during a dramatic standoff in 2011 that resulted in the first-ever downgrade of U.S. debt. 

Many conservatives remain skeptical that the nation will default and appear poised to again seek new curbs on federal spending in return for a debt increase.

While the administration is urging action without politics, the Freedom Caucus has come out against a “clean lift,” potentially complicating Ryan’s decision on how to advance legislation in the House.  

If conservatives demand concessions in return for a debt hike, Ryan could face a choice that often bedeviled his predecessor, Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJohn Feehery: A political forest fire Trump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery MORE (R-Ohio): whether to work with Democrats on a “clean” hike or work with conservatives to pass legislation on a party-line vote.

The uncertainty about the next steps was heightened by the Trump administration’s sudden adjustment to its timeline. Many lawmakers seemed caught off guard.

When asked his approach to the debt ceiling, Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Utah governor calls Bannon a 'bigot' after attacks on Romney MORE (R-Utah), who heads the Senate Finance Committee, said, “I haven’t thought about it.” Another Finance Committee member, Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees GOP senator: Trump shouldn't pardon Flynn Trump should fill CFPB vacancy with Export-Import chief MORE (R-S.C.), said he simply didn’t know what the approach should be. 

Thune said he wasn’t sure if Republicans would coalesce around a specific spending reform or simply agree to a clean lift, which could require Democratic votes.

Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Live coverage: Senate Republicans pass tax bill The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill MORE (R-Wyo.), who heads the Senate Budget Committee and is also a member of the Finance Committee, suggested lawmakers could use the debt ceiling bill to revive an overhaul of the budgeting process that both parties have supported.

“Last year we held 13 hearings on budget reform and seemed to have a pretty good path towards bipartisan changes that would make the budget more responsible for the country,” he said.

The effort fell apart, he added, because the Budget Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (I-Vt.), was not included in the process due to his presidential campaign schedule and did not sign off on the plans. 

“So we weren’t able to move forward with those, but I’m hoping that a good many of those, that both sides believe in, will be a part of some incentive for changing the debt ceiling,” Enzi said.

Democrats, who during the Obama administration urged Republicans to support drama-free debt ceiling hikes, are mulling whether to take advantage of the moment and press Republicans for concessions of their own.