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Perilous Debt Ceiling Debate Looms for House GOP

Boehner, right, is a target of some members of his own conference. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Boehner, right, is a target of some members of his own conference. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Never mind the continuing resolution and Rep. Paul D. Ryan’s new budget. House Republicans could face an explosive intraparty showdown over the debt ceiling, CQ Roll Call’s Jonathan Strong reported Wednesday.

Despite muted grumbling by some conservatives over the past few years that the House Budget chairman’s proposals haven’t been aggressive enough, leaders have not had much trouble rounding up 218 GOP votes to pass the budget blueprints. And with the Wisconsin Republican now proposing a fiscal 2014 plan to balance the budget in 10 years, the House majority is likely to be even more unified around the bill.

But the debt ceiling is another matter.

The debate over raising the federal borrowing limit has caused House Republicans perhaps their biggest internal disagreement since they took control of the chamber two years ago, even though the alternative could be default and a further downgrade of the country’s credit rating. Upstart conservatives and the outside activist groups supporting them are preparing to demand major concessions; whether they show some flexibility, as they did in the August 2011 deal that birthed the sequester, is unclear.

In the aftermath of the December fiscal cliff deal that Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, ran through the House with more Democratic than Republican votes, patience with GOP leadership is wearing thin among the conference’s idealistic conservatives. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., is assembling a band of members to vote against typically routine votes on the rule governing floor debates on a bill.

Other conservatives are counseling a wait-and-see approach. And as Strong reports, some conservatives — even some within the wait-and-see group — are quietly hoping Boehner “caves” on his promise to move all legislation through regular order and refrain from passing major fiscal legislation if it does not have the support of 218 Republicans, so that they have an excuse to oust him.

In fact, that might be the most interesting part of Strong’s story. From his report:

In a surprising twist, some in the wait-and-see school have urged the more aggressive Republicans to tone it down by arguing that giving Boehner space one last time is providing rope to hang himself with — the argument being that the next debt ceiling fight will convincingly demonstrate that Boehner is not up for the task when he inevitably caves.”

Ah, Washington. Never a dull moment.

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