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House GOP Still Struggling for Consensus on Debt Limit

They talked about balancing the budget in 10 years, repealing Obamacare, slashing spending and overhauling the tax code.

In other words, the House Republican meeting Wednesday afternoon to brainstorm a path forward for dealing with the debt limit basically consisted of “a laundry list of everything imaginable,” in the words of Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

That isn’t to say it was a surprise, or a disappointment. Leading up to the GOP leadership-convened conference, lawmakers said that they expected it to be a listening session rather than a strategy meeting on what demands they should bring to the negotiating table as a condition of raising the debt ceiling.

Policy Committee Chairman James Lankford, R-Okla., said Tuesday that he didn’t anticipate consensus around a single idea, but that perhaps “instead of 10 options, maybe we’ll come out with three or four.”

When the two-hour meeting broke up, however, it appeared that Lankford’s modest expectations had been eluded.

According to a House GOP leadership aide, 39 lawmakers took the opportunity to address their peers in a manner that was “frank” and “productive,” and there did seem to be an agreement that at least some component of Republican’s debt limit request would include a pledge to balance the budget.

“The beauty of my concept is that the Democrats can’t oppose that. Who’s going to go publicly opposed to balancing the budget in the next 10 years?” asked Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas. He explained that as part of his vision, the parties could institute budget caps and an enforcement mechanism that could only be overridden by a supermajority and flesh out the details of how to hit the mark later. “I think that’s a wining political message.”

But it is still one idea of many that members floated on Wednesday. Moreover, the slate reads like a Republican wish-list of items the House has passed, but Democrats have spurned.

Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said that in addition to proposals to defund or repeal the 2010 health care law, ideas at Wednesday’s meeting included fast-tracking Keystone XL oil pipeline construction and allowing medical professionals to object to performing abortions for conscience reasons.

Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., added that there were discussions about linking a tax overhaul to a debt limit extension, using chained consumer price index and Medicare premium means testing, and passing a bill that would cut government regulations.

Reflecting on the nearly two-hour meeting, Rep.  Rob Woodall, R-Ga., conceded that with all the proposals on the table, “the challenge … is going to be defining that sweet spot of agreement.”

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday afternoon that he believed GOP leaders want to “reach a position where they don’t have to pursue what they believe to be an irrational, unacceptable, economy-damaging action.” That could translate into resisting a compromise with Democrats that would prevent the Treasury from defaulting on its finances, he suggested.

As for opening up the conversation to the rank and file, Hoyer said he understood and appreciated leadership’s efforts to engage its base.

But they have a challenge in front of them, he continued.

“They are in a difficult position,” Hoyer said, “because a significant number of their caucus wants to hold hostage something that they shouldn’t be taking hostage. … There are some who want to use it as a bludgeon accomplish their demands, which they think they cannot accomplish by other means.”

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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