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House GOP Wary of Plan B

House Republican leaders are at least a week away from pressuring their Members to support a Plan B debt deal under discussion in the Senate.

House and Senate leaders are trying to show their rank-and-file Members that they are serious about passing a Cut, Cap and Balance proposal, which drew a stern veto threat from President Barack Obama on Monday, and will therefore not turn to the backup plan first broached by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) until they have considered the first piece of legislation. Both chambers are slated to take up the conservative-backed Cut, Cap and Balance plan this week, but whether that will be enough to win over GOP votes for the eventual debt package remains to be seen.

Rep. John Shimkus said he will vote for the Republican Study Committee-backed plan this week. But the Illinois Republican said in an interview, “The question is what happens after that.”

“We have to be on record, and I think a lot of us wish this vote came earlier,” Shimkus said. But absent a sweeping deal to drastically cut spending in exchange for a debt ceiling increase, “I don’t see where the votes are,” he said.

Republican lawmakers have also demanded a balanced budget amendment be considered before a bipartisan debt deal can come to the floor, but GOP leaders have quietly scrapped plans to bring up the constitutional amendment this week — a move that allows them to round up more supporters and focus on the Cut, Cap and Balance plan. The scheduling change also pushes back when a debt deal could come before the House. The Treasury Department has said the government will begin defaulting on its obligations on Aug. 2 if there is no deal to raise the debt ceiling.

The House is scheduled to adjourn Aug. 5 for the summer break, although recess plans are in flux for both chambers. The House was scheduled to be in recess this week, but that district work period was scrapped earlier this month so the chamber could work through budget and debt matters. Earlier, the Senate canceled its July Fourth recess to focus on the same issues.

And on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced his chamber would stay in session every day, including weekends, until the debt ceiling is raised.

Shimkus said his GOP colleagues are skeptical of high-level talks in the Senate, where Reid and McConnell are working to strike a deal. For too many House Republicans, the Senate talks harken back to the spring’s negotiations between Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded.

“I think the continuing resolution poisoned the water of trust for making deals,” Shimkus said, noting the forecasted cuts in the CR did not come to fruition. “We got the job done keeping the government funding and supporting our troops, but it poisoned the water in terms of a ‘grand bargain’ for cuts and raising the debt limit.”

House Democrats have largely stuck to a message focusing on protecting Medicare and closing tax loopholes. A cadre of moderates, particularly those in the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition, could end up supporting a deal, but the details of the Reid-McConnell package will be key in determining how those votes shape up. One senior Democratic aide said one aspect of the deal — setting up a joint committee to recommend future action on addressing the deficit — would have to have real power to get the backing of moderate Democrats.

Still, Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the New Democrats, cautioned that Republicans are “making a risky calculation” if they are counting on the minority to pass a debt limit increase. That calculation has been made necessary because a large number of Republicans are expected to vote against raising the debt ceiling regardless.

“We need a plan that will not only achieve our intention to reduce the deficit but do it in a shared way,” Crowley said.

Spending cuts will be the deciding factor. Make them too big, and it will be much harder to get Democratic votes, given that GOP leaders continue to be insist that no new revenue be part of any deal. But make them too small, and Republicans could balk.

Senate Democrats have agreed to GOP requests to slow-walk the Reid-McConnell plan to give Senate Republicans more time to come to terms with the deal before voting.

“We’ve hit pause for a few days to let people get things off their chest, and then we’ll be back to the real plan,” a senior Senate Democratic aide said.

That proposal, still under development, would marry McConnell’s proposal to let the president raise the debt ceiling by
$2.5 trillion in installments with Reid’s proposal for a joint committee empowered to bring a deficit reduction package to the House and Senate floors. The proposal would be attached to a Senate vehicle and sent to the House, where a package of cuts of perhaps $1.5 trillion or more would be attached. It would then come back to the Senate for final passage.

Deficit hawks, however, haven’t given up hope that they can still craft a deficit reduction package of $4 trillion or more, although prospects for getting such a plan signed by the president before Aug. 2 are slim at best.

The remaining members of the “gang of six” will this morning brief some of the more than 60 Senators who have generally supported their efforts. Democrats including Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) have been urging the remaining Republicans on the panel — Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Mike Crapo (Idaho) — to support releasing the plan to the public, but they have resisted doing so without the backing of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who took a sabbatical from the group to write his own deficit reduction plan.

John Stanton contributed to this report.

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