Can Boehner Push Through a Debt Ceiling Increase Before He Leaves?

Boehner is slated to retire Friday. Boehner is slated to retire Friday. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Speak­er John Boehner is slated to re­tire Fri­day, set­ting up a busy le­gis­lat­ive week as he tries to “clean the barn,” as he put it, for his likely suc­cessor, Rep. Paul Ry­an.

The House will likely vote to au­thor­ize the Ex­port-Im­port Bank and raise the debt ceil­ing be­fore Wed­nes­day’s in­tern­al con­fer­ence elec­tion, set­ting up a Thursday floor vote to hand Ry­an the speak­er­ship. That will leave it to the Sen­ate to take up the debt ceil­ing meas­ure after it fin­ishes work on cy­ber­se­cur­ity le­gis­la­tion on Tues­day. Sen­ate lead­er­ship has said they will not vote on the Ex­port-Im­port Bank reau­thor­iz­a­tion as a stan­dalone bill.

Yet head­ing in­to Monday, House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers still do not have a con­crete plan about how to raise the debt lim­it by the Nov. 3 dead­line. A plan to do so with some con­di­tions fizzled amid lackluster sup­port last Thursday, and GOP mem­bers are in­creas­ingly resigned to an­oth­er vote on a clean debt-lim­it in­crease as early as Tues­day.

Boehner’s al­lies have said his of­fice has con­tin­ued to speak with the White House about a spend­ing deal as he heads for the exits, but Demo­crats have down­played the pos­sib­il­ity of a broad agree­ment, and Pres­id­ent Obama has con­tinu­ally said he will not ne­go­ti­ate over the debt lim­it. GOP lead­ers are cog­niz­ant, mean­while, that if they do not vote this week, they would be let­ting the is­sue drag on in­to the first week of Ry­an’s speak­er­ship.

“The speak­er is go­ing to try to get that out of the way be­fore Paul takes over,” Rep. Tom Rooney said Fri­day. “I know he’s try­ing to do something with the pres­id­ent, but we’ve been down that road so many times be­fore. It would be great if he could come up with some big deal that makes us all feel great about ourselves, but if past is pre­ced­ent, we’re go­ing to end up do­ing a clean debt-lim­it vote some­time in the next two weeks.”

Mc­Carthy and oth­er lead­ers have said they do not have the votes on their side of the aisle to pass a clean in­crease. But sev­er­al mem­bers said privately that they doubt his words are more than pos­tur­ing to try to bol­ster Boehner’s ne­go­ti­at­ing po­s­i­tion. The fact is, a cadre of GOP lead­ers, com­mit­tee chairs, and cent­rist mem­bers have voted for a clean in­crease in the past, and stand will­ing to join Demo­crats to do so again.

“I don’t like to have to do it. We should be do­ing something to get the debt down. But when we don’t have 218 votes on our side, it’s tough to hold a po­s­i­tion,” Rep. Dev­in Nunes, who voted for a clean in­crease in 2014, said. “I can’t ima­gine we are go­ing to have a debt-lim­it crisis.”

For their part, Demo­crats have shown no in­terest in a po­ten­tial deal to pair the debt ceil­ing to an­oth­er must-pass bill, such as the High­way Trust Fund or a man­dat­ory spend­ing bill. “I don’t have any in­terest in any coup­ling,” House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi said Fri­day. “This is a non-ne­go­ti­able: the full faith and cred­it of the United States of Amer­ica.”

Pelosi’s No. 2, Whip Steny Hoy­er, ad­ded that Hill Demo­crats are back­ing the White House’s de­mand that debt-lim­it ne­go­ti­ations come without pre­con­di­tions. “The pres­id­ent’s view, which I share, is that the debt lim­it is not something that should be ne­go­ti­ated,” he said. That doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily pre­clude the debt ceil­ing from “rid­ing” on an­oth­er bill, but Hoy­er saw such a scen­ario as un­likely. “If there is a car­ri­er which can pass—but you only have five days. … There­fore, we think a car­ri­er is un­likely to be a vi­able op­tion at this point in time.”

Ul­ti­mately, Hoy­er said, he be­lieves that enough Re­pub­lic­ans will cave and join a near-un­an­im­ous co­hort of Demo­crats to raise the debt ceil­ing. “It’s in­con­ceiv­able to me that there aren’t 30-plus Re­pub­lic­ans to vote to make sure their coun­try is solvent,” he said.

If the House fails to ad­dress the debt ceil­ing this week, Sen­ate lead­ers are pre­par­ing for the pos­sib­il­ity that they will have to take the first step to in­crease the na­tion’s bor­row­ing lim­it. With a dead­line of next Tues­day, Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers are already fore­cast­ing con­cerns about their abil­ity to get le­gis­la­tion through the up­per cham­ber in such a short peri­od. Without total co­oper­a­tion from all mem­bers, the Sen­ate could take about a week to pass a debt-ceil­ing in­crease, Sen. John Thune said last week.

But giv­en the dif­fi­culty of get­ting to 218 votes in the House, Sen­ate lead­ers are still hope­ful that the lower cham­ber will go first, send­ing over a blue­print that they can at­tempt to rush to Obama’s desk be­fore the dead­line. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell vowed not long after tak­ing over the Sen­ate this year that his ma­jor­ity would not al­low a de­fault un­der his watch, but sev­er­al mem­bers are de­mand­ing con­ces­sions in ex­change for rais­ing the debt lim­it that could hamper his abil­ity to pass a bill quickly.

Sen. Ted Cruz has called for strict cuts in fed­er­al fund­ing, but said last week that the U.S. should not de­fault. Sen. Rand Paul, Cruz’s pres­id­en­tial rival, told Fox News on Fri­day that Con­gress should not in­crease the debt ceil­ing un­less Re­pub­lic­ans get “sig­ni­fic­ant re­forms” in fed­er­al spend­ing in re­turn.

Neither Cruz’s nor Paul’s ob­jec­tions would be suf­fi­cient to kill a debt-ceil­ing in­crease in the Sen­ate, but any sen­at­or could hold up the pro­cess with just eight days to go be­fore the U.S. de­faults.

Alex Brown contributed to this article.

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