Report: House GOP to abandon debt-ceiling demands

Feb. 5, 2014 at 1:25 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- House Republican leaders have given up plans to demand concessions from Democrats in return for raising the U.S. debt limit, a Capitol Hill newspaper reported.

Republicans have been debating whether to tie a higher borrowing limit to either approval for the Keystone XL pipeline or repeal of a provision of the Affordable Care Act, but House leaders have concluded passage of a higher debt limit will require Democrats' votes, the Hill reported Wednesday.

The publication said GOP leaders reached the conclusion after conferring with members Wednesday.

Even before Wednesday's sessions, some key House Republicans had already signaled the majority should skip the haggling and simply raise the borrowing limit -- which had been suspended in the fall as part of a deal to end the federal government shutdown, and is scheduled to take effect again Friday.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has warned Congress that without a higher debt limit, the government will only be able to meet its obligations through the end of February.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters "no one wants to default on our debt," but he said while Congress is raising the debt limit, "we should do something either about jobs and the economy, about the drivers of our debt, and so we're talking to our members, and when we have a decision, we'll let you know."

Some conservative House members are pushing to repeal the "risk corridor" provision in the Affordable Care Act, which decreases insurance carriers' financial risks in selling untried insurance plans on the new healthcare exchanges. The provision limits the amount of money a plan can make or lose in its first three years.

The Obama administration and insurance carriers say it's needed to buffer the risk since carriers had no experience to base their rates on because they'd never sold through the marketplaces before and couldn't accurately estimate how many people will get sick this year. Some conservative critics call the provision a bailout of insurance companies.

Other GOP lawmakers are pushing to attach a rider calling for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline following last week's favorable environmental study by the State Department.

The 2,100-mile pipeline would carry highly viscous petroleum and oil from Alberta, Canada, to U.S. refineries in Nebraska, Illinois and on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, told Time magazine Tuesday they would support using either the risk-corridors provision or the pipeline call in the bargaining.

But two House Republicans told reporters this is not a time to press for concessions.

"We should bring up a clean debt ceiling, let the Democrats pass it, and just move on," Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said in remarks quoted by the Washington Post.

"Our constituents are fed up with the political theater," he said. "If we're not going to fight for something specific, we might as well let the Democrats own it."

A clean debt-limit hike is one with no strings attached.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., agreed with Labrador.

"It's theater," he said of the discussion and rumors about possible GOP horse-trading.

"It's going to end up being clean anyway. I don't see anything they can put on the table that I would support as some sort of trade-off," he said.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said Tuesday she would not vote for a clean bill but "if the House leadership chooses to go that route and believes that's in the best interests of the country and they don't need my vote to accomplish that, I'm OK with that."

President Barack Obama has insisted he will not negotiate over raising the debt limit, calling it a congressional responsibility, not a bargaining chip. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has also demanded a clean debt-limit increase.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters it was "premature to speculate" on whether Republicans would support a clean increase.

"I think we're moving toward a consensus on how to proceed, and we'll let you know when we have one," he said.

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