WASHINGTON -- The House plans to vote Wednesday on a Republican proposal to extend the government’s debt ceiling for three months, but conservatives were waging a last-minute effort to defeat the bill because it would not force spending cuts.
The proposal from Republican leaders would keep the $16.4 trillion ceiling intact but declare that it “shall not apply” until mid-May, or about three months after it was passed by the Senate and signed into law.
The measure doesn’t seek spending cuts that many conservatives are demanding, but it does have strings attached: House and Senate members would forgo paychecks if Congress doesn’t approve a budget by April 15. That provision is designed to force the Democratic-controlled Senate to pass a budget, something it hasn’t done in four years. Sponsors said they’ll still work to cut spending in other bills, and they stressed that they could always fall back on automatic spending cuts approved in 2011 but not yet implemented.
At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama “would not stand in the way” of the short-term bill and would likely sign it if passed by the House and Senate. The administration added that a long-term solution is still preferred.
“A temporary solution is not enough to remove the threat of default that the Republicans in the Congress have held over the economy,” the Office of Management and Budget said Tuesday in an administration statement of policy. “The Congress should commit to paying its bills and pass a long-term clean debt limit increase that lifts an unnecessary uncertainty from the nation’s economy.”
House Republican leaders appeared confident that they would have sizable Republican support for the short-term measure, as they told the rank and file they’d produce a budget that’s balanced within a decade.
“"Passing a short-term hike buys time for the House and Senate both to pass a budget," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told House Republicans at a closed-door caucus.
He added that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a hero among the party’s diehard conservatives, would be “working with all of us to draft a budget by the April 15 deadline. With the right reforms in place, Paul’s goal is to advance a budget that balances within a decade. I applaud that goal, and share it.”
Boehner also gave assurances that automatic spending cuts due to take effect March 1 “will be in place unless and until we get spending cuts and reforms to replace it, and that start us down a path to balance within the decade.”
Still, tea party groups, key conservatives and several Republican House members who want to use the debt ceiling as leverage against the White House to force Obama to rein in federal spending balked at the short-term solution.
“This proposal is more of the same,” said Dean Clancy, legislative counsel for FreedomWorks, a conservative group. “Once again, Republican leadership is negotiating with itself to temporarily bail the big spenders out by lifting the U.S. debt limit for four months, with no immediate accompanying budget reforms or spending reductions.”
The Tea Party Patriots denounced the bill in an email call to action Tuesday that urged its members call their House member and set up a meeting with them next week to register their opposition to the Republican-sponsored bill.
“The willingness to kick the can down the road is easy,” said Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin. “We understand the Republican strategy. But when it comes right down to it, this strategy will cost our country.”
Several House Republicans expressed unease over the bill and a few said they intend to vote against it. A defeat of the measure would be another setback for Boehner, who was forced to pull his “Plan B” proposal during the fiscal cliff showdown because of a lack of House Republican support.
Boehner is banking that his assurances will tilt some Republicans who’ve expressed skepticism about the short-term plan.
But freshman Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said Tuesday that he’s likely to buck his party leadership and vote against the measure.
“If your principles lead you to vote for a three-month debt limit extension, which one of your principles would prevent you from voting for a one-year extension?” Massie said. “It’s a difficult vote, the most difficult in my two months here. I’m suspect that the strategy will work. It’s like punting on first down.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, told Fox News’ Lou Dobbs that the plan won’t work “without spending cuts.”
“Not without a balanced budget amendment, something more than just kicking the can down the road,” Gohmert said.
In a speech Monday to a gathering of conservatives in Charleston, S.C., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., accused Boehner and House Republicans of surrendering to Obama on the debt ceiling.
“I saw the speaker on TV handing the newly sworn-in president a flag,” Politico reported Paul as saying. Noting that the debt ceiling deal was announced last week following a House Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Va., Paul reportedly said, “They came out of their retreat and retreated.”
Republicans did receive a bit of good news on the bill from the anti-tax Club for Growth, which said it does not consider Wednesday’s vote a key one on its congressional scorecard, meaning the group will not criticize lawmakers who vote for it.
“We don’t think it’s great policy, but we’re not calling it a key vote,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the group. “Our position has never been, ‘Don’t raise it (debt ceiling) under any circumstances.’ Our position has been that Congress should do its job and put us on a sustainable fiscal path.”
David Lightman of the Washington Bureau contributed