Boehner calling for debt talks lacks Republican groundswell

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (Source: Bloomberg) U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (Source: Bloomberg)

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, who has failed to win talks with President Barack Obama, faces another challenge as well: what to say to Obama about the debt ceiling if they ever meet to discuss terms.

House Republicans have yet to stake out a position on the debt limit, owing in part to a group of about 16 of their members who have voted against lifting the ceiling over the past three years.

That group has made it difficult for Boehner to bring up legislation in the House to raise the debt ceiling and stake out a firm bargaining position to take to Obama. House Republicans can lose support from only 15 of their members on a bill with no Democratic votes because the Republicans hold a 232-200 majority.

“Unless we have major reforms for the way our government spends, I am not going to sign some blind check for irresponsible policy,” said Representative Matt Salmon, an Arizona Republican, describing himself as a “hard” vote to get for raising the debt ceiling.

Their positions leave Boehner little bargaining room. If he takes a hard line and doesn’t pass a debt-ceiling increase, the U.S. could default. If he pushes through a measure with some Republican and some Democratic votes, he endangers his speakership and his ability to manage the House heading into the 2014 election.

Borrowing Authority

Nine days before U.S. borrowing authority is set to run out, the stark differences between the parties were on display yesterday. Obama took to the podium at the White House to reiterate his demand for a vote on debt ceiling and spending legislation with no add-ons. Boehner hasn’t released a bill as House Republicans dug in on their demands for spending cuts, including a delay in requiring individuals who lack health insurance to purchase it.

Republican Representatives Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Steve King of Iowa in interviews rejected the Treasury’s contention that the U.S. faces default after Oct. 17, when its borrowing authority is exhausted.

“It is not a hard break on Oct. 17,” King said.

“The only debt payment we have between now and Nov. 15 is a $6 billion payment on Oct. 31 which is not much,” Huelskamp said. “The major one is Nov. 15.”

Huelskamp indicated that any measure to increase the debt- limit that doesn’t balance the budget in 10 years wouldn’t win his support. He said that was the House Republicans’ focus this entire year.

“That is what kept the speaker in his position, and kept the conference together,” he said.

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