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Conservative Debt Limit Plan Shelved

Boehner wants to raise the debt limit before he resigns next week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Boehner wants to raise the debt limit before he resigns next week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker John A. Boehner said he hoped to raise the debt limit before he resigns from Congress, but he’s running out of time to meet the Nov. 3 deadline in advance of his scheduled Oct. 30 departure.  

The Ohio Republican has five more legislative days to avoid a federal government default before the politically messy task falls to his successor. Earlier this week, Boehner and other GOP leaders were prepared to start the inevitable game of legislative volleyball with the Senate: They would put a bill on the floor as soon as Friday that would raise the debt ceiling through early 2017, plus make sweeping changes to the annual congressional budget process.  

That proposal, dubbed the “Terms of Credit Act,” bore the imprimatur of the Republican Study Committee and appeared to be an ideal conservative starting point for demanding concessions as a condition of extending the nation’s borrowing authority — before Republicans would ultimately have to swallow a “clean” bill.  

However, a whip count Wednesday night showed the RSC measure didn’t have the GOP votes to proceed.  

Sources familiar with discussions said conservatives could sniff out a “show vote” when they saw one, and said they would only support a debt ceiling bill that carved out policy riders that could legitimately put Democrats in a jam.  

A leadership ally, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., spoke to another concern about the RSC bill: He told reporters Thursday afternoon he was troubled that such a complex piece of legislation was being routed through the legislative pipeline without so much as a hearing at the committee level. The RSC introduced the bill Monday amid the “will-he-or-won’t-he” intrigue of Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan’s potential bid for speaker.  

“I did not whip a definite ‘no,’ but look, … the Budget Committee, I think, deserved to look at that,” Cole said.  

“Second,” Cole continued, “anything, I think, that we’re trying to tell the Senate what it wants to do with its own rules, whether I agree or don’t agree with that — I’m not a senator, they get to make up their own rules.”  

Cole was referring to a provision in the bill that would require the Senate to forgo the 60-vote filibuster threshold for appropriations bills after Oct. 1.  

Sources told CQ Roll Call some panel chairmen were also unnerved by a provision that would have forced committees to pass bills that achieve the savings outlined in yearly budget resolutions, which are symbolic and non-binding.  

The RSC debt limit proposal, the only one formally introduced so far, has been shelved. The center-right Tuesday Group is mulling its own ideas for how to raise the debt ceiling but hasn’t produced anything official.  

Should they do so, it’s unlikely to please conservatives.  

Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.

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