TIME Congress

House GOP Struggles Over Debt Ceiling Strategy

From left: House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio joined by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan takes reporters' questions, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 11, 2013.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP From left: House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio joined by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan takes reporters' questions, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 11, 2013.

Leadership tries to find a demand it can win and that conservatives can support

House Republicans’ strategy for the coming fight over raising the debt ceiling remained in flux Wednesday, according to congressional aides, after two demands favored by GOP leadership failed to gain traction with rank-and-file lawmakers.

Those two demands—repeal of an obscure provision in the new health care law and approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline—had been floated by party leadership. But after a Wednesday morning meeting between House Speaker John Boehner and his top three lieutenants—Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers—aides said nothing is on the table yet and that leadership will meet with members early next week to talk strategy.

The federal government will reach its borrowing limit on Friday, but the Treasury Department can use extraordinary accounting measures to delay the need for a debt-ceiling increase until the end of the month.

While initially there appeared to be high demand for repealing so-called “risk corridors“—a feature of the health care law that Republicans call an insurance company bailout—a new budget report projects the provision will actually earn the government billions of dollars over the next few years. The Congressional Budget Office, which released the study, did not gauge the cost of repealing the risk corridor provision, and it’s still possible that Republicans could push Democrats on the issue during the coming negotiations, but it now seems less likely.

The struggle for Boehner to settle on a strategy with the conference reflects his weak hand. There is no indication that Boehner would actually choose default over the conference’s demands, and House GOP leadership will likely blink like it did in October, when President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won a mostly “clean” debt ceiling increase.

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