Debt-limit standoff: 10 things to watch

Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are strategizing for what is expected to be a bruising debate on raising the nation’s debt limit and reining in government spending.

The Obama administration has set an early-July deadline for lifting the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, a move that congressional leaders agree must be done.

ADVERTISEMENT

But some Tea Party lawmakers have vowed to reject any bill that calls for more borrowing, while liberal legislators are threatening to oppose cutbacks to Medicare, Medicaid and/or Social Security. Attracting enough “yes” votes for passage will be extremely challenging for Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Trump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Impeachment will reelect Trump MORE (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTed Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump MORE (R-Ohio).

Political analysts contend the negotiations, and the ultimate remedy, could have far-reaching implications for the 2012 elections.

The following are 10 things to watch for during the contentious debate.

1. The Gang of Six. 

The bipartisan group of lawmakers might soon be playing a leading role in the debt-ceiling talks, or it could be completely irrelevant. If the three Democrats (Sens. Kent Conrad, N.D., Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions MORE, Ill., and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills State attorneys general demand that Congress take action on election security MORE, Va.) and three Republicans (Sens. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE, Okla., Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissRepublicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight MORE, Ga., and Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoCongress can defend against Russia by outlawing anonymous shell companies On The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump MORE, Idaho) agree on a plan to attack the nation’s debt problem, it could quickly gather momentum. However, any such proposal would surely attract criticism from both the left and the right.

2. The liberals in Congress. 

Many Democrats in Congress have called for a “clean” extension of the debt ceiling, something President Obama also initially endorsed. Yet Obama has since softened his stance, knowing Republicans will not pass a debt-ceiling hike without major strings attached. Liberals are very concerned that the Gang of Six will call for major changes to Social Security, which the president and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi slated to deliver remarks during panel hearing on poverty Indiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Indiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection MORE (R-Wis.) dodged in their respective entitlement reform blueprints.

3. What the GOP wants. 

Congressional Republicans have suggested they have a long wish list of spending cuts. But they haven’t said what they want, which has worried some prominent Republicans, including Karl Rove. In a recent interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News, Rove said he was “amazed” to learn that House and Senate Republican leaders had not been communicating on the matter.

Some issues that are on the table include a balanced-budget amendment, spending caps proposed by Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Press: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Tenn.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world MORE (D-Mo.) and major changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

4. How much, and for how long. 

The debt ceiling is approaching $14.3 trillion, and rising. Obama has called on Congress to lift the debt by $2.2 trillion, and under his budget request, another debt-ceiling move would not be necessary until after the 2012 election. House Republicans, meanwhile, have called for a smaller debt-limit increase aimed to last until October of next year. Some conservatives have called for more than one debt-limit boost in this Congress, arguing the strategy would give Republicans more leverage and thus lead to more spending cuts from the White House. On the other hand, these negotiations are expected to be politically explosive. Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle will probably want to avoid a similar showdown before the elections.

5. Presidential politics. 

Raising the debt ceiling is never popular, and it’s a good bet that most of the 2012 White House hopefuls will come out against any bipartisan deal. Reps. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannKlobuchar urges CNN town hall audience: 'That's when you guys are supposed to cheer, OK?' Michele Bachmann praises Trump: Americans will 'never see a more godly, biblical president' Michele Bachmann praises Trump: Americans will 'never see a more godly, biblical president' MORE (R-Minn.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), who are both eyeing runs for president, are sure “no” votes. In all likelihood, the eventual Republican nominee will criticize Obama for raising the debt limit, and the president will have to defend whatever agreement is reached.

6. The conservatives in the Senate. 

If there is a Gang of Six deal, it will, in all likelihood, call for tax increases. That won’t sit well with the right, most notably Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist and Coburn have been sniping at each other through the media, and that friction could intensify in the coming weeks. A few conservative senators, including Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions MORE (R-Utah), have indicated they might filibuster a debt-ceiling measure. That would require a 60-vote threshold to pass, which would be extremely difficult to reach on such a contentious issue.

7. The BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTed Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump MORE-Geithner 

relationship. This could be a bit awkward. Last summer, Boehner publicly called on Obama to fire Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The White House promptly fired back at Boehner, and now Geithner and Boehner will have to iron out an accord, or the U.S. could default on its loans. Geithner, who has been a regular on the Sunday shows in recent weeks, has called the default scenario “catastrophic.”

8. The Biden commission. 

The big question that surrounds this commission is: How relevant will it be? Republicans initially ripped Obama’s call for another commission to deal with the deficit, but subsequently decided to participate in the discussions. The president wanted 16 members of Congress to serve, though after some wrangling, only six members were tapped by congressional leaders. The four Democrats are Sens. Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) and Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (Mont.) and Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.). The two Republicans are Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Rep. Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorGOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington House Republicans find silver lining in minority MORE (Va.). House Democrats are worried they will get shut out again, as they were late last year when the White House struck a deal with Republicans on extending the George W. Bush tax rates.

9. The Hoyer-Pelosi dynamic.

 House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) voted for the spending deal that averted a government shutdown earlier this month, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected it. Hoyer, along with Obama, has said his 2006 vote against raising the debt-ceiling limit was a mistake. Pelosi has not. The liberal-leaning House Democratic Caucus stood by Pelosi after the 2010 electoral drubbing, but many centrists — including those who opted not to vote for Pelosi for Speaker in January — appear to be following Hoyer.

10. Members facing tough reelections.

 Usually, the onus on the debt ceiling falls on the majority party. For example, not one Republican voted to increase the debt ceiling when Democrats controlled both chambers in 2010. With divided government, the votes will be less predictable this year. And in order to pass a bill, some members facing tough races back home will have to vote “yes.” There will be enormous pressure on Republicans facing primary challenges to vote “no,” including Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchA health insurer takes on his own industry: Describe clearly what we favor, not attack what we oppose A health insurer takes on his own industry: Describe clearly what we favor, not attack what we oppose Trump to award Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer MORE (Utah). Politically vulnerable Republicans and Democrats will also have to be persuaded (or strong-armed) by their leaders because the safe vote, campaign operatives say, is to vote “no” on such a politically unpopular bill.