House GOP pondering strategic debt-ceiling vote without cuts

House Republican leaders say they may allow a floor vote to increase the nation's credit limit without any of the accompanying spending or deficit-reduction reforms they have been demanding all along. The idea is to allow the vote, which they expect to fail, as a way to demonstrate that the idea of a "clean vote," being championed by President Obama and other Democrats, has no chance of passage.

"Dead on arrival," is how House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., described it on Tuesday.

Obama and many congressional Democrats have been calling for a so-called clean vote to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. They argue it is irresponsible to use the nation's credit and ability to pay bills as a bargaining chip to advance a partisan agenda, which they accuse the Republicans of doing.

But in what appears to be a strategic new twist, Cantor, who as majority leader sets the House floor calendar, is now suggesting that Democrats might just be given what they've been clamoring for.

Cantor did not provide any timeframe for such a vote.

But if it happens, the move will likely not be motivated solely by the Republican desire to illustrate poor support for the debt-ceiling vote. It now appears that House Republicans have decided that it may be politically beneficial to bait House Democrats into casting votes to raise the debt ceiling -- minus any attached conditions such as spending reforms -- convinced doing so would be to the Democrats' own political detriment.

"I think most Americans think that's a bad idea," said Cantor, "and if it is necessary for us to tell the president that is dead on arrival in the House, I believe that we can do that."

"Again, our position has been this: We will not support an increase in the nation's credit limit without serious, real changes in the way this town does business and the way it spends taxpayer dollars," said Cantor.

In response, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., noted on Tuesday that 114 House Democrats already have signed a letter circulated by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., in support of raising the debt ceiling without conditions. Hoyer also seemed to indicate that he believes there could be enough Republicans who would do so, as well, to avoid a standoff that could put the nation's credit in jeopardy.

Hoyer emphasized that he is among the Democrats who do want to pursue spending cuts and other deficit-reduction mechanisms. But he said, "I don't think an alternative is to not pass a debt-limit extension." He noted Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned that would put the country in a "very dangerous and chaotic situation."

The back-and-forth Tuesday came as Obama's bipartisan deficit-reduction working group chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, on which Cantor is a participant, is set to hold its first meeting on Thursday.

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