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Republican Leaders Pitch Debt Limit Sweetener (Updated)

Updated 9:39 p.m. | House Republican leaders pitched their members a deal Monday night that would pair raising the nation’s borrowing cap for one year with a rollback of military pension cuts — with a vote possible Wednesday.  

Republicans posted the text of the bill Monday night, including a $2.3 billion fund that could be used for a patch for Medicare doctor reimbursements. The debt limit would be suspended until March 15, 2015.  

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said Republicans planned to whip the newest proposal during Monday evening votes.  

“I think the goal is to put it on the floor Wednesday,” Nunes said. “We’re just going to whip it.”  

The deal is designed to attract Democratic support, which became necessary when GOP leaders found last week that none of their plans could garner 218 votes from Republicans alone. The deal remains tenuous, however, as leaders will still have to round up a large swath of support from the Republican Conference.  

Other members were skeptical of the plan, hoping their leaders would fight for a measure along with the debt ceiling increase that would reduce the deficit.  

“Right now we’ve got a debt ceiling bill that increases spending, which is diametrically, 180 degrees opposite of what we were battling over just two years ago,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.  

Aides and staff have noted since last week that they think the military pension plan gives them the best chance to pick off Democratic votes from members who may be wary of casting a vote against the plan, which could be viewed as casting a vote against the military.  

But that also puts many Republicans who don’t want to vote for the debt limit hike in a tough spot too.  

“I think there’s people who never want to vote for the debt limit (and) also don’t want to vote against veterans, so I understand, you know, there’s a lot of folks that would be in that camp that would be upset,” Nunes said. “It gives them a tough decision.”  

Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said leadership said it wanted a plan that would be “‘no skin off the Democrats’ back.'”  

Salmon estimated the plan would need 100 Democrats to pass the House.  

Yet support in the Senate and White House is uncertain. Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., released a statement Monday chiding Republican leaders and imploring them to “give up and walk back the ransom demands.” A short time later, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “We’re not going to pay a ransom of any kind,” although he declined to answer whether the president would sign a bill restoring the military benefits.  

If Republican leaders cannot find enough support in their conference for the plan, it is likely they will move forward with a clean debt ceiling increase. Either plan could move as early as Wednesday, and the Rules Committee is prepared to act as soon as Monday night to expedite floor consideration.  

The deal, as it is being discussed, would restore the $6 billion in 10 year cuts to cost-of-living pension increases of non-disabled members of the military under the age of 62 that are slated to begin next year.  

Aides said the backfilled money would come from either extending sequester cuts to mandatory budget programs beyond the 2023 deadline called for in the budget deal or an adjustment to pensions that allows employers to contribute less to pension plans up front in exchange for larger contributions later, thereby raising more tax revenue in the short term.  

As recently as late last week, leaders were also discussing attaching a provision that would have temporarily adjusted a formula for how Medicare pays physicians. Several Senators and House members, however, are seeking a permanent fix to the formula, and a group of influential committees announced a tentative agreement to that end last week, though how the policy will be paid for remains undetermined.  

What had been the top two options to attract Republican support to a debt limit increase have long since been abandoned. At their annual retreat two weeks ago, leaders considered a change to the Affordable Care Act or a measure to spur the construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.  

But the Monday meeting of the whole House Republican Conference in the basement of the Capitol highlights an increasing sense of urgency in reaching a deal to avoid default before the Feb. 27 deadline — the House is in recess starting Thursday and, along with the Senate, all through next week for the Presidents Day holiday.  

If members can agree on terms for raising the debt ceiling and leadership feels confident it has 218 votes to proceed on the House floor, the Monday meeting could set the gears in motion for a vote on Wednesday before the chamber breaks to allow House Democrats to hold their annual retreat.  

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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