With Budget Deal Set to Pass, Sides Gird for Debt-Limit Fight

Monday, 16 Dec 2013 11:08 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Battle lines are being drawn for a looming debt-limit fight, pitting conservative lawmakers and groups pushing Republican leaders to extract spending changes against a White House unwilling to budge.

With a House-passed budget proposal appearing to have enough votes to pass the Senate, the focus is turning to a debt limit that has to be raised by early March so the government can continue to pay its bills.

The government has about $17.2 trillion in debt subject to the suspended borrowing limit.

"We are fighting to get our economy back on track and for a balanced budget," said conservative Republican Study Committee leader Rep. Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Scalise says many Republicans want to focus debt-limit talks on "mandatory spending" — including programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and food stamps.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has promised to reject any debt-limit raise that isn't paired with spending cuts, said his spokesman, Alex Conant, The Journal reported.

But a House GOP leadership aide told The Journal there's a potentially steep political price to pay in making demands in exchange for a debt-limit increase, recalling negative approval ratings for Republicans after the October government shutdown.

The Journal notes that primary challenges could be at stake as well if factions of the GOP go toe-to-toe over the debt limit. Early March is when the 2014 primary season gets under way, including in Texas.

"We're not opposed to raising the debt ceiling, but we just feel you should get good behavior in return for it," Barney Keller, communications director for the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group, told The Journal.

Also, Heritage Action for America spokeman Dan Holler told The Journal that Republicans shouldn't "be taking anything off the table right now" regarding demands related to raising the debit limit.

But the White House won't go there, press secretary Jay Carney said Monday.

"We have not and will not change our position, nor do we expect Republicans to travel down that road again, because, one: so many of them have said they won't," Carney said. "And two: because that approach and pursuit was so disastrous for them and for the economy."

Though it's not clear what Republicans will demand in any debt-limit struggle, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who helped negotiate the bipartisan budget deal, said Sunday the GOP will be ready.

After meetings "in our retreats after the . . . holidays," Republicans, Ryan vowed, will "discuss exactly what it is we're going to try and get for this," the Washington Post reported.

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