Senate GOP bloc demanding entitlement reform in exchange for debt limit hike

Nearly half the Republicans in the Senate are threatening to vote against increasing the federal debt ceiling unless the president promises to tackle entitlements.

In a letter sent to President Obama Wednesday, 23 GOP senators warned it will be "difficult, if not impossible" to approve a hike to the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling if the president does not take the lead on reforming Medicare and Social Security.

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The warning makes for a high-stakes standoff in the coming months. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned of global economic catastrophe if the limit is not raised in time, and the Treasury now expects to hit that ceiling sometime between April 15 and May 31.

"Federal expenditures on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are expected to double over the coming decade and represent an unsustainable portion of total government spending," the senators, led by Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHillicon Valley: Facebook co-founder calls for breaking up company | Facebook pushes back | Experts study 2020 candidates to offset 'deepfake' threat | FCC votes to block China Mobile | Groups, lawmakers accuse Amazon of violating children's privacy Experts are studying mannerisms of 2020 candidates to help offset threat of 'deepfake' videos Bolton held unexpected meeting on Iran with top intel, military advisers at CIA: report MORE (R-Ind.), wrote. "In order to ensure the long-term viability of these programs, it is imperative that you lead a bipartisan effort to address these challenges."

They specifically cite the comprehensive deficit reduction plan put forward by the president's fiscal commission as "an important first step in identifying a potential path forward."

That plan, dubbed the Bowles-Simpson plan, proposed cuts to Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age, but failed to garner enough support from the commission to be sent to Congress for a vote.

While Democrats still control a slim majority in the Senate, they likely will need some Republican support to approve a debt limit increase, as filibuster threats loom.

Freshman Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOn 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 Hillicon Valley: Google delays cutting off Huawei | GOP senators split over breaking up big tech | Report finds DNC lagging behind RNC on cybersecurity MORE (R-Utah) vowed in January to filibuster any increase that does not include a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, meaning a 60-vote threshold could be necessary to keep the government from hitting that ceiling. Lee signed on to Tuesday's letter, along with GOP moderates such as Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Tea Party favorites such as Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment 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 MORE (R-Ky.).

Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' New Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes MORE (R-Ky.) said March 11 that he thinks no Republicans will vote for a debt ceiling increase unless "we do something significant about the debt." He named entitlement reform as a major area needing action, but stopped short of making a debt limit increase contingent on it in an interview with The Associated Press. McConnell did not sign the letter.

The Obama administration has acknowledged the need to reform Social Security, but stopped short of making specific recommendations in its fiscal 2012 budget proposal.