GOP Leaders Still Hunting for Debt Limit Votes (Updated)

Posted September 26, 2013 at 6:03pm

Updated 7:22 p.m. | Republican leaders still haven’t secured the votes for a debt ceiling bill as they plan weekend sessions to wrap up work to avert a government shutdown.

Rory Cooper, spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., tweeted Thursday that the House would come in for one vote series Friday morning at 10 a.m. and then return Saturday at 10 a.m., given that Senate will vote on the continuing resolution on Friday afternoon. Cooper also tweeted that members have been told to expect the House to be in session on Sunday as well.

The House Rules Committee earlier passed a “same-day” rule allowing legislation to be brought up the same day it is introduced.

Earlier in the day, Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said he believed his panel would be meeting on the debt limit bill Thursday evening.

After presenting a debt limit bill to their conference on Thursday morning that would delay Obamacare for a year and secure permit approval for the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, leaders have yet to win over enough Republicans to proceed. And Democrats still insist they won’t negotiate at all.

Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said he believed “it’s at least 18” Republicans who are still in opposition to the debt limit measure.

“I don’t think they bring it up if it’s really 18,” Huelskamp said Thursday afternoon.

Republicans would need 217 votes, if every member of the House were voting, to pass a debt limit bill. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., is resigning Friday, which will bring the GOP number down to 232. That means Republicans can’t lose more than 15 members on the debt limit bill if all members are voting.

Aides insist the debt limit bill has always depended on the timing of the CR, but GOP leaders may want to wait on releasing a final version until they deal with the continuing resolution.

Dealing with the CR first may allow leaders to promise their conference more goodies in the debt limit bill, which is already being criticized on the left as a “wish list.”

According to a document obtained by CQ Roll Call, that “wish list” contains 20 “additional options” for the debt limit bill, on top of four principles in the “Core Package” — a one year debt limit increase for a one year delay of Obamacare, the agreement of tax reform instructions and the Keystone pipeline.

The 20 additional options, according to the document, are:

Economic Growth
1. Offshore Energy Production
2. Energy Production on Federal Lands
3. Pipeline Permitting Reform
4. Coal Ash
5. Prohibit EPA from Regulating Greenhouse Gases
6. REINS Act
7. Regulatory Process Reforms (APA)
8. Consent Decree Reform
9. Regulatory Flexibility Improvements
10. Block Net Neutrality Regulations

Non-Health Care Reforms:
1. Federal Employee Retirement Reform, which Republicans estimate will save $20 to $84 billion.
2. Eliminate Dodd-Frank Bailout Fund, which they estimate will save $23 billion.
3. Eliminate Mandatory Funding for CFPB, with estimated savings of $5 billion.
4. Require SSN to Receive Child Tax Credit, with estimated savings of $7 billion.
5. Eliminate Social Service Block Grant, with estimated savings of $17 billion.

Health Care Reforms:
1. Increase Medicare Means Testing, which Republicans estimate will save $56 billion.
2. Reduce Medicaid Provider Tax Gimmick, which Republicans estimate will save $11 billion.
3. Medical Liability Reform, with estimated savings of $49 billion.
4. Disproportionate Share Hospitals, with estimated savings of $4 billion.
5. Eliminate Public Health Slush Fund

“The president says, ‘I’m not going to negotiate.’ Well, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way,” Boehner said.

But while Boehner loads up items on the debt limit bill, some Republicans may be wondering how such a measure would conform to the “Boehner Rule,” which mandates a dollar in “cuts or reforms” for every dollar the debt ceiling is raised. Many aides predict a one-year debt ceiling hike would come out to approximately $1 trillion.

And while the wish list has many incentives for Republicans, it might not reach dollar-for-dollar cuts or changes. As Cantor said Thursday, the debt limit “calls for the reform of our tax code,” which is markedly different, in effect, from actually changing the tax code. Calling for reforms is most likely achieved through nonbinding motions to instruct, which wouldn’t receive a score from the Congressional Budget Office.

The final legislative language is still being written. And if Republicans can’t find the votes within their own party to pass a debt limit bill, there’s no telling what Republican leaders might throw in. If they ultimately need Democratic votes, that could severely hamper leadership’s leverage to demand concessions.