Support coalesces around GOP's temporary fix to debt ceiling crisis
The Obama White House said Tuesday it will not oppose a GOP-led House plan to raise the national debt ceiling for 90 days. Many firebrand fiscal conservatives, too, appear willing to go along. But the plan carries risks for both parties.
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But the 90-day gambit holds some peril for the GOP, as well. GOP fiscal hawks – led by the loudest and largest conservative caucus, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) – believe that they have extracted significant promises from party leaders for going along with the plan, even though it has none of the immediate spending cuts or budget reforms that they want.Skip to next paragraph
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First, they say leadership has committed to writing a House budget proposal that will lead to a balanced budget in 10 years. That’s a stark departure from Republican budget proposals of the past. While the budget backed by the RSC in 2012 achieved balance in only seven years, that proposal came up well short of support for passage among Republicans. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s final budget, which passed the House, came to balance nearly three decades into the future.
Spending cuts of that magnitude would come with significant political risk to the party. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) of Kansas, a critic of the GOP leadership who lost his committee assignments in a spat of palace intrigue, even raised the possibility on Tuesday of cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits for those over 55 years of age. That's something that even Representative Ryan was unwilling to broach in his most recent budget.
“There’s going to be a lot of tough stuff in there,” said Rep. David Schweikert (R) of Arizona about the deep cuts Republicans would need to make. “But that’s the reality.”
Second, conservatives say they’ve won a promise that GOP leaders will insist upon $1.2 trillion in spending cuts mandated by the sequester, or half of the automatic spending reductions required by the last debt ceiling deal of 2011.
As a result of those two promises, most of the House's avid spending-slashers will support the plan to lift the debt ceiling for three months – without demanding immediate spending cuts in return.
“Most conservatives are willing to suspend disbelief and believe the leadership ... that we will have a conservative outcome," said Rep. Thomas Massie (R) of Kentucky. That's the case despite their disappointment over how the House speaker handled the year-end "fiscal cliff" deal and appropriations for hurricane Sandy relief.
Off Capitol Hill, conservative groups that are usually allies on spending issues are split over the House GOP's 90-day plan on the debt ceiling. Club for Growth said it would not count this vote on its congressional scorecard, even as it emphasized the need for spending cuts in the near future. Heritage Action, the political advocacy arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, issued a statement that neither supported nor opposed the bill.
But FreedomWorks, usually aligned with Heritage Action and Club for Growth on the hardline fiscal edge, opposes the measure because it lacks “immediate accompanying budget reforms or spending reductions.”
And what if the alleged promises aren’t kept? Blowback from conservative lawmakers and their allies outside Congress could be intense.
“In many ways, in 90 days, this is going to be the ultimate test of the relevancy of those we entrust with their leadership positions,” said Representative Schweikert, who after clashes with House GOP leaders was stripped of his plum assignment on the Financial Services Committee, “and I believe there will be hell to pay if they squander this.”