Politics 2014: Let the debt ceiling, budget games begin!

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International
Politics 2014: Let the debt ceiling, budget games begin!
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, has warned colleagues shutting down the government because they oppose raising the debt ceiling is counterproductive. File photo. UPI/Matthew Healey | License Photo

Come the fall, Washington watchers may think they're in a time warp as they listen to debate begin -- again -- on keeping the government running and raising the debt ceiling so the United States can pay on the debt it's already incurred.

Already Congress and the White House are getting into messaging mode.


President Obama last week began a series of economic-themed speeches about growing the middle class, presenting new proposals and repositioning economic proposals from the past. He called Republicans who want to shut down the government "deadbeats."

House Speaker John Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck issued a challenge to the White House to take a shutdown possibility off the table by dropping a veto threat on spending bills at the House budget's level -- $967 billion, which was prescribed in the 2011 Budget Control Act that President Obama signed into law, Roll Call said. That figure also happens to include the full-year effect of the sequester both sides have decried as bad policy -- a $21 billion cut from this year's spending level of $988 billion.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed to oppose a stopgap spending bill that would extend the sequester beyond the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30), Roll Call said, calling it a "disaster" for the country.


Both the House and Senate passed budgets for fiscal year 2013-14 as part of the deal to extend the debt limit though mid-May. Not much more has happened since because neither chamber has appointed conference committee members.

The lack of movement on an budget also can be traced, in part, to a fear by conservatives that language that would raise the debt ceiling -- expected to be breached this fall -- will be slipped into the compromise bill that only needs a simple majority to win approval.

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Several Republican senators said they're leery about House Republicans being vigilant about letting any debt ceiling action be resolved by a simple majority.

Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, along with a group of mostly Tea Party-movement senators, is using a procedural vote to hold up the budget reconciliation process until they can extract a formal promise that a compromise forged with Democrats won't include raising the amount the government is permitted by Congress to borrow.

The fight pits Republican budget hawks and conservatives against those for whom compromise isn't automatically a four-letter word, MSNBC reported.

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"I disagreed with how [the House] handled the debt ceiling increase last time," Toomey said. "I'm not convinced they'll handle it right this time without us all being at the table."


"Every time we've offered to come to conference, we've said, let's just take this off the table, and Reid and the other Democrat senators say, 'Oh, no, that has to be on the table,' which suggests that they're considering a mechanism that would allow them to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes," Toomey said on MSNBC, referring to the reconciliation process.

Meanwhile, Utah conservative U.S. Sen. Mike Lee has threatened to try to shut down government over the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, telling Fox News recently he has more than a dozen senators on board with his idea.

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"If Republicans in both houses simply refuse to vote for any continuing resolution that contains further funding for further enforcement of Obamacare, we can stop it," Lee said. "We can stop the individual mandate from going into effect."

(The House recently voted to delay both the individual mandate and the employer mandate. Obama earlier announced the employer mandate would be delayed; the House vote on that measure was to codify the delay.)

"This is the last stop before Obamacare fully kicks in on Jan. 1 of next year for us to refuse to fund it," Lee told Fox.

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Still, Lee needs to pick up the support of more than 40 senators to block a continuing resolution in the Senate, although he's expressed confidence about the effort's success.

On the debt ceiling Speaker Boehner, R-Ohio, drew a line, reiterating his insistence spending cuts must accompany any debt ceiling discussions, NBC News said.

"It's as simple as that," he said. "I believe the so-called Boehner Rule is the right formula for getting that done."

As Congress works to set up its beachhead, the White House has weighed in, warning lawmakers they can't hold up the economy by threatening to let the nation default on its loans.

"I think that the president believes that Republican leaders ... and Republicans in general do not want to see the nation go down that path again," White House spokesman Jay Carney said last week during a media briefing. "But it requires leadership to ensure that minorities of minorities or -- minorities of majorities -- don't bring about an unforeseen result."

"But this is up to Congress to resolve. Again, it is not something that should be negotiated," Carney said. "That is the responsibility of Congress to pay the bills that it's already racked up."


And, the White House spokesman said, the White House won't negotiate with Congress "over Congress' responsibility to pay the bills that it's already racked up."

"We're just not," he said.

Carney expressed hope that it wouldn't come to that "because we saw what happened when that flirtation took place in -- in the summer of 2011" in the first debt ceiling showdown.

In Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday, Obama added: "Shutting down the government just because I'm for keeping it open, that's not an economic plan. Threatening that you won't pay the bills in this country when we've already racked up those bills, that's not an economic plan. That's just being a deadbeat."

Chastising his colleagues, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Americans have little appetite -- or patience -- when it comes to Republicans threatening to shut down government again or trying to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip to repeal Obamacare.

The Arizona Republican made his predictions in an interview on a Washington radio station, which sent the audio to The Washington Post.

In discussing the pending debt debate, McCain said: "Some of my Republican colleagues are already saying we won't raise the debt limit unless there's repeal of Obamacare. I'd love to repeal Obamacare, but I promise you that's not going to happen on the debt limit. So some would like to set up another one of these shutdown-the-government threats. And most Americans are really tired of those kinds of shenanigans here in Washington."


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