Republicans divided on debt ceiling strategy

Republicans are divided over whether to raise the debt ceiling before the August recess, with senators preferring to act soon and members of the more conservative House reluctant to take the contentious vote.

Senate Republicans have suddenly found themselves in a holding pattern on health care with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) out recovering from surgery. In the meantime, they may turn their attention to the nation’s nearly $20 trillion borrowing authority, which needs to be increased this fall to avoid a devastating default.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is considering work this week on approving President Donald Trump’s nominations, reauthorizing Food and Drug Administration user fees, the annual defense policy bill and veterans legislation allowing vets to access medical care outside the Veterans Affair Department.

Senate GOP leaders may attach a debt ceiling increase to the vets bill — though no final decision has been made and the conversation is largely still at the staff level.

Either way, Senate Republicans have made clear they prefer raising the debt ceiling before leaving for recess the second week of August.

"We’ll probably deal with that before we leave," said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

The House has other plans. GOP leaders and staff have vowed for weeks to raise the debt ceiling before the “X date” of default but also downplayed the possibility that the date would fall before the summer break.

The Congressional Budget Office’s recent announcement that the nation won’t bump up against the debt ceiling until early- to mid-October has only emboldened them to wait until September.

If the Senate insists on acting before recess, however, they would need to send a bill to the House in the next two weeks, before the lower chamber breaks for recess at the end of July.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has told Republicans he will not keep them in town in August at all — unless the Senate sends them an Obamacare repeal bill.

McCarthy said nothing about staying in session to address the debt ceiling.

The reality is that striking a debt agreement will likely take much longer than two weeks. Republicans will need Democrats to carry the legislation because conservatives won’t vote for a debt ceiling increase without steep spending cuts — a proposition Democrats scoff at.

Senate Democrats have also suggested they may play hard to get, demanding policy changes for their support. That all but assures a multi-week negotiation process.

There’s also been talk about a striking a bipartisan budget deal to raise federal spending caps along with a debt limit boost. In the House, more than 20 members of the moderate Tuesday Group — the very members House GOP leadership will lean on to help pass a debt ceiling bill — have asked for the two to go hand in hand.

Negotiations on that front, however, have not even started.

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