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House GOP leaders race to beat debt ceiling deadline

The Morning Line

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill find themselves in a familiar position this week as they face yet another deadline to raise the country’s borrowing limit, with the pressure on House GOP leaders to figure out a strategy that can win support from their rank-and-file members but also attract some Democratic support.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to lawmakers on Friday informing them that the department had begun using so-called “extraordinary measures” that would temporarily allow it to continue paying the nation’s bills. But he warned that such maneuvers would only suffice until the end of the month.

“Based on our best and most recent information, however, we are not confident that the extraordinary measures will last beyond Thursday, February 27,” Lew wrote. “At that point, Treasury would be left with only the cash on hand and any incoming revenue to meet our country’s commitments.”

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have insisted they will not entertain any demands pushed by Republicans in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling.

“It’s the responsibility of Congress to ensure that bills that have already been incurred are paid in a timely fashion so that the United States doesn’t default,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week. “Our position, the president’s position is what it has been for a long time, which is that we are not going to pay ransom in return for Congress fulfilling this basic responsibility.”

Still, House Speaker John Boehner and his team are weighing their options to see what proposals might be able to garner the support of a majority of lawmakers in the chamber. With many conservatives opposed to the idea of raising the debt ceiling under any condition, GOP leaders will likely have to rely on Democrats to supply some votes to get a hike passed.

The Washington Post’s Paul Kane and Robert Costa run through the options currently on the table:

A handful of bargaining ideas have emerged, with a proposal to restore recently cut military benefits in exchange for a one-year extension as a leading option. Other ideas, such as tying a debt-limit extension to the “doc fix,” which would alter the way doctors are reimbursed for Medicare treatments, are in the mix.

One idea that gained traction over the weekend would combine the military and Medicare issues with the debt-ceiling extension, along with offsetting cuts that would prolong portions of the automatic spending decreases known as sequestration and changes to pension programs.

But some Republicans are fearful of tying the debt ceiling to the military pension issue, wanting to vote against the debt-limit hike but not wanting to cast a vote that could be portrayed as anti-veteran.

Politico’s Jake Sherman, meanwhile, notes the short-term “doc fix” might also be problematic:

The nine-month patch to the Medicare reimbursement rate – known as the Sustainable Growth Rate or the “doc fix” — is meant to attract Democratic votes. But senior Republican sources are skeptical that this package will be able to pass. Top industry groups — like the American Medical Association — are opposed to a short-term patch. A bipartisan group of lawmakers last week introduced a bill to eliminate the SGR, and a nine-month fix could jeopardize that deal.

House Republicans, however, are running out of time to settle on a path forward, with the chamber set to adjourn Wednesday to allow Democrats to attend their annual retreat. Should a plan quickly come together, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has reserved time on the floor schedule Wednesday for debate on legislation related to the debt limit.

If lawmakers cannot reach an agreement before then, the calendar becomes increasingly difficult. Congress will be in recess next week for the Presidents’ Day holiday, with members returning to Washington the week of Feb. 24. That would leave them only a couple of days to avert a potential default by the federal government.


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  • Mark Shields and David Brooks discussed the January jobs report, the debt ceiling, prospects for immigration reform and the Sochi Olympics.

  • Economist Justin Wolfers of the Brookings Institution spoke with Paul Solman about why the January jobs numbers shouldn’t change your perspective on the economy.

  • NewsHour weekend examined the spate of municipal bankruptcies and whether filing for bankruptcy is a sound way to address mounting pension debt.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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