House Republicans are considering a short-term debt ceiling increase, paired with modest spending cuts, as their first move in the next round of government spending and budget negotiations.
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"We're discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt limit extension, so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and White House involved in discussions in March," said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.
The approach, said Republicans, would delay debt ceiling discussions long enough to first allow automatic spending cuts and budget deadlines to drive the negotiations toward spending cuts; the preferred outcome of Republicans.
Republican leaders spent their annual conference retreat Thursday detailing the state of play of the three approaching negotiations: the debt ceiling, automatic spending cuts and the expiration of the discretionary budget.
"All those bring to confluence of an opportunity to drive the debate and to drive changes that get us toward long-term prosperity and get us off of this notion that we can just continue to borrow and spend," said Rep. Peter Roskam.
"Our goal is to make sure our members understand all the deadlines that are coming, all the consequences of those deadlines that are coming in order so that we can make a better, more informed decision on how to move, how to proceed," said Ryan.
The session, entitled "The Next 90 Days - Planning for the First Quarter", advised "time will permit extensive member participation and feedback" according to the retreat schedule.
House Republicans said they mostly focused on a strategy of delaying long-term debt ceiling negotiations with a short-term fix. Republican House members and their staffs describe a smaller debt ceiling increase as only one of a handful of options under discussion of varying borrowing limits and spending cuts.
Republicans remain committed to coupling any increase in the debt limit with an amount of spending cuts that exceeds the borrowing increase. President Obama's opening position refuses to acknowledge a negotiation on the debt ceiling, instructing Congress raise the debt ceiling as a standalone measure to avoid severe economic consequences. He and Democrats argue an increased debt ceiling allows the government to pay for spending that has already been approved.
Republicans said that in the past, bipartisan budget deals have included the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip, saying it serves as an event to ensure government controls its spending.
House Republicans largely rejected the Fiscal Cliff compromise that permanently continued all but a minor percentage of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, arguing the compromise contained no spending cuts. The Republican conference is set on extracting significant curbs to government spending in these upcoming budget fights, especially on entitlement programs - all while controlling only one congressional house.
"We have to also recognize the realities of divided government that we have," said Ryan. "So, while we aspire to give the country a very specific and clear vision about what we think is the right way to go on the major big issues of the time, we have to at the same time recognize the divided government, and the fiscal deadlines that are approaching, what those involve and then how we're going to proceed forward. And that's exactly the kind of conversations that I and others are facilitating." In running the House Republican strategy, Speaker John Boehner holds the seemingly impossible task of crafting a deal that attracts the majority of his conference and the approval of Democrats. This, while the White House and Senate Democrats continue to trumpet Election Day's results, and what they perceive as voters' overwhelming choice of their economic policies over those of the Republicans.
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