House Republicans Weigh Short-Term Debt Limit Extension

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., participate in a press conference Tuesday morning. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., participate in a press conference Tuesday morning. Evan Vucci/AP

With the government shutdown entering its second week and the Oct. 17 debt-limit deadline looming, House Republicans are poised to pursue a strategy that deals with each crisis separately, with an emphasis on agreeing to a short-term debt-ceiling deal as quickly as possible.

According to several high-ranking Republican aides, the House GOP leadership on Tuesday morning will inform lawmakers of its plan to continue passing individual funding bills to reopen specific areas of the federal government. On a separate track, the House majority will pursue a short-term extension of the debt limit in hopes of reaching an agreement with the Senate before next Thursday's deadline.

The proposal being floated right now, according to aides, would extend the debt limit for roughly one month and include dollar-for-dollar spending cuts. To win over skeptical conservatives, the House proposal is also likely to include language that would instruct the Treasury Department to prioritize its payments in the event a debt-ceiling agreement is not reached.

The decision to work separately on resolving the government-funding and debt-ceiling fights will likely surprise Republican lawmakers, many of whom acknowledged last week that they seemed to be heading inexorably toward one big, comprehensive negotiation. But with so little time remaining before the Treasury Department's Oct. 17 deadline, and the severe implications of a government default, the House leadership seems prepared to prioritize its crises.

Whereas a government shutdown was always viewed as potentially harmful -- but not lethal -- there is widespread acknowledgment within the House GOP Conference, even among members who doubt the Treasury Department's forecasts, that failure to act on the Oct. 17 deadline could be catastrophic. Indeed, even as some Republicans last week continued advancing the argument that a true "default" is impossible, they also expressed concern about markets and acknowledged that something would need to be done by Oct. 17.

Whether conservative lawmakers will go for this specific proposal remains to be seen. While it satisfies the "Boehner Rule" -- one dollar of spending cuts (or reforms) for every new dollar in debt -- some members have expressed skepticism about another short-term extension.

But with Washington already mired in a partisan impasse over government funding, House GOP leadership is likely to tell lawmakers that this proposal is making the best of a bad situation. In passing a short-term extension of the debt limit -- which the White House signaled on Monday it would accept -- House Republicans could buy themselves time to continue working on separate deals to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling on terms they favor.

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