Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 9, 2016

GOP at a Loss on Debt Limit

House Republican leaders are at a loss about how to move a debt limit increase.

A GOP leadership aide told CQ Roll Call that after an informal canvas of the House Republican Conference through member meetings and phone calls over the past week, leaders concluded that the top two sweeteners they were considering could not attract enough Republican support to pass a debt ceiling hike.

The conference has been discussing attaching a measure that would repeal a section of the Affordable Care Act that helps insurance companies avoid risk or another that would spur the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Neither turned up enough support to pass the extension of the nation’s borrowing authority. (See our related story.)

Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio met with his top leadership team Wednesday morning to discuss the next steps, but leaders and staff do not yet have a plan for how to proceed, aides said.

“We are mulling other options and trying to figure out the best way forward on this,” a leadership aide said.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said that Congress must extend the debt limit by the end of February or risk default.

Boehner and leaders have said they intend to do so, but their rank and file has insisted that they need to attach Republican legislative priorities to the bill in order for them to support the policy. The problem is that between members’ far-flung demands, there is no consensus about one add-on that could bring the conference together.

Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, meanwhile, said he would like to see a fix to Medicare’s sustainable growth rate, which helps control the program’s spending on physician services. And Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said that he and others would prefer a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

Democrats have said that they refuse vote for a debt limit increase that includes what they see as extraneous measures.

“They obviously were not able to coalesce around a strategy. They better get moving because the clock is ticking,” Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said of Republicans. “This is simple: pay your bills on time. It should be a straight up or down vote.”

Matt Fuller contributed to this report.



  • David Jenkins

    This article implies that passing a debt ceiling hike requires support from a majority of the GOP Caucus. That is not the case. A clean debt ceiling would pass with overwhelming Democrat support and a sizable chunk of GOP votes.

    The author is confusing leadership’s desire to pass debt-ceiling legislation with majority GOP support, with the ability to simply pass it. They are not the same.

    • PortageMain

      They are technically not the same, but that’s not how things generally work. The House majority leader (or Senate majority leader for that matter) would far rather bring forward a proposal that has majority support in his own caucus, rather than relying on a lot opposition party votes to pass it.

      • David Jenkins

        True, but we probably should get out of the habit of confusing a Speaker or Majority Leader’s preferences with the actual math of passing something. The public should know if the impediment is real or manufactured.

        Also keep in mind that those Republicans in swing districts, who are the most vulnerable and who suffer most when the party seems unreasonable or dysfunctional, would probably prefer a clean debt ceiling vote

        • PortageMain

          You could say the exact same thing about the Senate, i.e. that Reid could pass something more moderate if he ignored the majority of his own party and relied on the Republican minority for support plus a minority of Democrats. But that is something that never happens either.

          • Raylusk

            No you couldn’t say the same thing about the Senate. The Democrats hang together. It would take 10% of the democrats to swing the vote. This is not even dealing with the fact that it would take 60 votes to over come a filibuster which would mean 20% of the democrats would have to vote with 100% of the Senate GOP. That is simply not going to happen. The real facts are that the House could pass legislation with out majority support of the GOP but the Senate cannot pass legislation with out every Democrat and at least 5 republicans to overcome the filibuster.

          • PortageMain

            It doesn’t happen in the Senate because Harry Reid doesn’t let it happen. If he was so inclined, there is no reason why he couldn’t cobble together, say, 20 of the most right-leaning Democrats and 40 Republicans to overcome a filibuster. I’m not aware of a single time he even tried to do such a thing.

        • mabramso

          Um, not just the preferences of GOP leadership — the preferences of a majority of GOP House members.

      • PubliusNovus

        Not exactly. The hangup in the House is the so-called Hastert Rule. Under the Hastert Rule, a GOP speaker will not schedule a floor vote on a bill unless the bill has the support of a “majority of the majority.” In other words, another extra-constitutional requirement foreign to the Framers (just like the filibuster).

        • PortageMain

          Reid does the same thing in the Senate, only there isn’t a specific word for it. Name one bill that has ever gotten to the floor of the Senate under Reid w/o majority Democrat support. All I’m saying is that it’s not just the House (and Republicans) who use a Hastert-type rule but they tend to get all the grief for not slicing and dicing up their caucus

  • PortageMain

    Maybe Boehner would have more luck with caucus if he phrased it in a slightly different way, like “I think we’re all agreed that we don’t want to push this thing to a government shutdown (because that didn’t work out so well last time, and I frankly don’t see how it’s going to turn out any better this time), and we’re having a pretty good run right now with the circular firing squads the Democrats have set up on this Obamacare fiasco and the Keystone pipeline. So what concession would you like me to extract from the Dems in return for supporting something we can reverse in the next Congress if we get a majority in both houses of Congress?

    • PubliusNovus

      You’re spot on, right up to the last sentence. A simple majority of Repubs cannot “reverse” any of the things they oppose. The man in the WH has a veto pen, and it takes a 2/3 majority–not within reach of the GOP under any scenario in either house–to overcome a presidential veto. Moreover, assuming the GOP takes a one or two seat majority in the Senate, they must defend at least 23, probably 24 seats out of 34 in 2016. Of those 34 seats, 10 are expected to be competetive, and 8 of those 10 are RED. In other words, the Republican majority in the Senate–assuming it materializes (remember, we heard a prediction of certain GOP takeover in 2010 and 2012 also)–may be somewhat short-lived, especially if Hillary runs and wins with long coattails.

      • mabramso

        Of course, the same can be said of a Democrat win in 2016 being short-lived, as the 2018 Senate races look much more like 2014 than 2016.

      • PortageMain

        Technically true, but if Republicans hold majorities in both Houses the dynamic is going to be much different, If the man with the veto pen wants to move anything through such a Congress, he is going to have to be prepared to negotiate. On HRC, remember how inevitable her presidency was in 2006

  • manesandtails1

    These people are never in sync with the needs of the United States. OK, we will raise the debt ceiling BUT only if we repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act.and similar unrelated items. Why on Earth did people vote these Politicians in?

    • mabramso

      Um, because a majority of THEIR district’s voters agree more with the views of who they elected than with the views of any of their opponents. That’s called representative government.

      Furthermore, none of these tactics are anything new.

      • Raylusk

        Well these tactics didn’t occur under either Bush. So yeah they are new. Get a clue.

  • mabramso

    Given the excellent electoral prospects for the GOP in November, I believe the wisest course is to extend the debt limit through the end of the year with no strings attached, after which they can fight this battle with a much stronger hand.

    • Raylusk

      A much stronger hand? We are talking about playing with the full faith and credit of the US. Raising our debt ceiling should never be in question. Both the House and Senate approved a two year budget in January. The budget is where you control spending and revenue. Not the debt ceiling.

      • mabramso

        Oh, please. Politicians have been tying legislative priorities to debt ceiling bills for a heck of a lot longer than the GOP has been in control of the House. It’s just that now, the Democrats have discovered religion on it and have become self-righteous about clean extensions. Furthermore, there is PLENTY of money for the US to pay its bills, regardless of whether or not an extension is passed, so paying or not paying the bills due would be an administration decision. It would just be inconvenient for the administration.

        In spite of that, when I said a “much stronger hand”, I was not referring only to debt ceiling extensions. I was referring to all legislative tools at their disposal. If the Senate is flipped, the GOP can definitely make their will known during the budgetary process.

        • Raylusk

          Oh please like I said they didn’t do it for either Bush. Also this conservative talking point about there being plenty of money to pay our bills has been proven false over and over so how about you quit using it. You aren’t fooling anyone. The law is that bills get paid in the order they come in. These bills include spending approved by Comgress. The President has no legal our Constitutional authority to say we will pay this bill but not that bill. But the Constitution does say that our debt will not be questioned.

          The Democrats are right on this issue. The debt ceiling is not the place to control spending, the budget is. As far as the GOP taking the Senate, this time in 2012 the media and all the conservatives were confident they would take the Senate and ended up giving up a seat.

          I think there is a strong possibility that the GOP being against everything and never for anything will not work out well for them in 2014. I know its attractive to conservatives but the legislation coming out of the House in the form of jobs bills is nothing but attacks on important environmental and job safety regulations and rewards of more taxpayer money to the wealthy and these things simply don’t resonate well with most Americans.

          • mabramso

            The administration is not bound by law to pay bills in the order received. But I don’t care anyway. Like I said, I am not in favor of the GOP doing this in the current environment, and they will have other tools later if they win in November.

            In terms of political predictions, mine are based on state demographics/voting history, and current polling, and the Democrats appear to be in trouble in quite a few Senate seats — certainly enough to flip control.

          • Raylusk

            Yes they are. Conservatives know that but lie about it all the time. How about you quit lying.

          • mabramso

            YOU are the one who is lying. There is NO law that says the Treasury must pay its bills IN THE ORDER RECEIVED. That is absolute BS.

  • T.A. Conscience

    CQ Roll Call is speaking to the wrong “leadership.” The only competent leadership knows we cannot take-on more debt. Most likely the “carrots” won’t sucker them, either. Good grief. When does the over-spending stop!?

    • PubliusNovus

      What part of “sovereign” don’t you understand?

      • T.A. Conscience

        No longer can America be consider sovereign.

    • Raylusk

      The place to control the debt is the budget. A two year budget passed in January. The debt limit is simply paying our bills. By the way we have been hearing the same crap from conservatives for 50 years about how we can’t take on more debt. You people have cried wolf once too often.

      • left wing

        yes, the left’s refusal to see the approaching bankruptcy while attacking anyone who disagrees with them has been the same since the dems found out that BUYING votes with tax dollars kept them in power.

        • Raylusk

          The US can’t go bankrupt. You clearly don’t have a clue what you are talking about. By the way the red states are the ones that receive more federal money than they pay in federal taxes. While the blue states pay more in federal taxes then they receive in federal money. So how is it again that the Democrats are buying votes when federal over payments are going to red states and not blue states?

          Finally the last Bush had a GOP congress for 6 years and what did he do? He took the Clinton budget surplus and eliminated that and added a budget deficit. So don’t give me this lying crap about Democrats trying to buy votes when it is clear it’s the GOP that is buying the votes.

    • dectra


      If you ‘don’t want to take on more debt’…….then DON’T Pass the spending bills.

      But, since the House DID pass the spending bills, perhaps they should pay for them, no?

  • left wing

    boehner is just a dem lying about being a pub.

    • dectra

      That’s patently ridiculous.

  • Doug

    The Republicans don’t know how to use the Democrats’ actions AGAINST THEM.

    The Democrats know that they are in a position to do what they want; so let them! Hold a press conference and issue a statement to that effect.

    All the Republicans in the House and Senate show up for the vote ( there has to be a quorum) and vote present.

    Put out a talking points memo: Every chance you get, shout that this uncontrollable spending spree is all the Democrats’ doing.

    Then come next fall shout it LOAD AND CLEAR: The Democrats got what they wanted. They refused to negotiate. And here is what they did to you the taxpayers.

  • daddyoyo

    I’ve got a better idea. Every time military force or war is sanctioned, an automatic tax increase hitting the wealthy the hardest will be imposed which will be adjusted going forward as costs increase. In addition, every single time a tax cut to the wealthy is approved, automatic cuts equaling the tax cut will be imposed, so that, for example, people will see their medicare cuts, or their bridges collapse so that the wealthy can live better and will understand the connection between these things.

  • Sabina Karsan

    How many times have we rasied the debt celing without any problems not democrats or republicans in congress now under Obamas presidency they aren’t accomplishing anything and rember the no budget no pay act what happened did they forget about that too does congress get paid for not doing their job as well as lying to us?

  • Evan Grantham-Brown

    Yawn. Here we go again. We all know how this story ends: A clean debt ceiling hike passed with Democrats and a minority of Republicans. The only question is how big a tantrum the Republicans throw first.

  • Defend The Constitution

    On October 2nd, 2013 the House passed H.J. Res. 71 to allow the city of DC to continue operating with its own funding.Once again, Harry Reid and Senate democrats obstructed.

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