GOP Looks for New Debt Ceiling Strategy

House Republicans struggle to find consensus on the debt ceiling.

House Speaker John Boehner, accompanied by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., speaks to reporters following a Republican Conference meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Washington.

House Republicans have not decided how to handle impending debt ceiling negotiations.

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Republicans in the House of Representatives have the wind at their backs heading into the 2014 midterm elections. The optics of the Affordable Care Act are hurting Democrats in vulnerable races and GOP popularity is slowly recovering since the government shutdown in 2013. There is only one more conceivable obstacle in their way: the debt ceiling.

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At the GOP retreat and throughout multiple meetings this week, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has urged members to unite behind a game plan, a list of demands the party would like to see in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling. But according to the Washington Post, chief vote counter Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Boehner he doesn’t have the votes to move any one of the proposals forward at this point.

Boehner laid out multiple options including a plan to tie the debt ceiling to the White House’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline or to demand the administration do away with specific provisions within Obamacare.
But the disagreement within the caucus could work in the GOP’s favor as the party looks to win back the Senate and expand its control in the House.

The White House has repeatedly said it wouldn’t accept anything but a clean debt ceiling increase anyway so likely any Republican stand would have resulted in either a high-profile showdown where the country defaulted on its debt or a high-profile showdown where the GOP eventually agreed to Democratic demands. Skipping the drama, experts say, gives Republicans the political upper hand.

"Even though it was good policy, they are not interested in fighting losing battles in an election year," says GOP strategist and former hill staffer Matt Mackowiak. "The smart move right now is to be low risk."Even though the most conservative members of the GOP caucus are still unwilling to vote ‘yes’ on a clean debt ceiling increase, they are resigned to the reality that it may be Boehner’s only option. Republicans are hoping they can take an old Democratic criticism of the tea party and turn it on its head. Four months ago, it was the Republicans who were perceived as being too entrenched. Now, Republicans believe they can paint the Democrats as the party unwilling to budge.

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“The American people are tired of our games,” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told reporters Wednesday. “I am just being realistic. If we are not going to fight for those things, let’s be honest with the American people that Harry Reid and the president are not willing to negotiate.”

Yet, some are still skeptical of approving a clean debt ceiling without any negotiation.

“I don’t advocate for some kind of scorched earth tactic,” Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said during a meeting with conservative lawmakers Wednesday, adding later, “a clean debt ceiling is capitulation.”

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has given Republicans and Democrats until the end of this week to agree on a plan. Otherwise, Lew has told members of Congress, he will have to invoke “extraordinary measures” to keep the country paying its bills on time.