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Recess Starts With No Timeline for Addressing Debt Limit

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, is looking to vote on a debt limit bill before the August recess. He might not be on the same page as his House GOP colleagues. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, is looking to vote on a debt limit bill before the August recess. He might not be on the same page as his House GOP colleagues. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House and Senate Republican leaders differ on their approach to the looming debt limit, as a key Senate Republican appears ready to vote on a measure before the August recess, but the House may not be on board with that timeline.

Ahead of the two chambers departing for the Independence Day recess, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas said on Thursday he wants to vote during the three weeks in July Congress is in session on a debt limit bill that includes changes in future spending — despite ongoing work on a GOP health care bill.

But House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California declined to set a similar deadline for his chamber. He said that the House will wait to take up a debt limit vote until after Congress repeals and replaces the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).

“I just saw it’s not due until October,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said referring to a CBO report released Thursday. “I want to get it done in advance, but there is no set [decision] that we have to do it in July.”

“I think health is going to have to get done first,” he continued.

The debt limit suspension expired on March 15 and since then, the Treasury Department has been using extraordinary measures to continue paying the nation’s bills.

But within the next few months those extraordinary measures will run out, and without another extension, the country would face its first default in modern budget times.

To avoid that, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has urged both chambers of Congress to vote on a clean debt limit bill before the five-week August recess.

But the CBO report said that extraordinary measures should be able to last until October; giving congressional leaders more cover if they choose to wait until September to vote on the debt limit.

Regardless of the CBO’s findings, Mnuchin continued urging lawmakers to act soon.

“I haven’t given any specifics in regards to the drop- dead date,” he said during a White House press briefing Thursday. “What I have said is that I hope that Congress acts before they leave. Yet we do have contingency plans if they don’t so that the market shouldn’t be concerned.”

“But again, I think for the benefit of everybody, the sooner that they do this, the better,” Mnuchin continued

Cornyn appeared to be leaning toward that timeline, although he said he wants an agreement on fiscal 2018 spending levels attached to that bill.

“I think we can get that worked out, because I hate the idea of having to come back and deal with this on a short time constraint,” the Texas Republican said. “So, it’d be nice to get that behind us along with agreed caps on spending for next year’s appropriations.”

If a vote in either chamber were to not take place until September, it would compete for floor time with several authorizations that need to pass before the new fiscal year. Congress also must pass some sort of spending bill before Oct. 1 to avoid a partial government shutdown.

House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., said he doesn’t know if the House will vote on the debt limit before the August recess. But he added: “The sooner we address it the better.”

Conservatives in the House have a slightly different take on the debt limit situation.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said he wants the House to vote on the debt limit before the August recess, but instead of suspending the debt ceiling through a future date, he wants the legislation to allow the debt to increase by $1.5 to $2 trillion before Congress would need to vote again on the debt limit.

“We have one plan already with legislative text. We are working on a second one that believes that we need to take action in July to go ahead and be proactive and not wait until the last hour,” Meadows said. “One is more structural reforms. The other is looking at more deficit reduction measures.”

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