House GOP eyes supercommittee to settle shutdown, debt ceiling
By Erik Wasson and Russell Berman - 10/08/13 10:44 AM ET
The House will vote as soon as Tuesday on forming a special committee of House and Senate members to work out a deal on reopening the government and raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, multiple GOP sources told The Hill.
The move is an attempt to highlight what the GOP sees as a refusal by Democrats to compromise in order to end the budget crisis. It also echoes the creation of a debt supercommittee to resolve the last debt ceiling impasse in 2011.
Lawmakers will separately vote on legislation to pay essential federal personnel, including those working right now and U.S. Capitol Hill police, while the shutdown continues.
The two bills would be voted on under a rule that would allow them to be merged and sent to the Senate, according to sources familiar with the plan.
The working group would not be a formal conference on the differing spending bills, aides said.
The Senate last week rejected a House attempt to form a conference committee to reconcile the “clean” Senate spending bill and the House bill that delayed ObamaCare.
“The Senate is refusing to talk and work out a solution to the imminent problems that we are into,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said. “The purpose of the bill is to create a place, an avenue to get together with the White House and the Senate.”
Rogers said the conference committee could become the vehicle to raise the debt ceiling.
The Treasury Department has said the debt ceiling must be raised by Oct. 17 to ensure the government avoids a default on U.S. payment obligations that could spark a global recession.
The push for the supercommittee comes as Senate Democrats and the White House show no signs of bending to House Republicans.
President Obama called Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday, but only to reiterate that he would not negotiate on the debt ceiling. Obama will hold a press conference Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is making plans to try to move a clean debt ceiling hike through the upper chamber, though it is unclear whether he'll be able to win the 60 votes necessary to overcome procedural hurdles.
In the House, Democrats signaled they would oppose the new supercommittee.
"Not again. Not again. Oh my gosh," said Rep. Xavier Becerra (R-Calif.), the head of the House Democratic Caucus and a member of the original supercommittee.
"There was nothing super about it," he said.
The House Rules Committee will consider a rule for the two measures at a 12:30 p.m. meeting. The measures would specifically set up a working group of 10 senators and 10 House members to deal with the debt ceiling, 2014 spending bills and reforms to mandatory spending programs.
The measures do not mention tax reform, though Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said the GOP could be open to raising some tax revenue as part of a wide budget dea.
“We disagree by a trillion dollars of spending and a trillion dollars of tax increase. … I think there is some ground between a trillion dollars in spending and a trillion dollar tax increase. For Republicans not to be able to identify that would be silly,” Sessions said. “We are going to stick to our guns, but it doesn’t mean that people have to deny each other the ability to talk.”
A Sessions aide however later clarified Sessions is not open to new tax revenue.
House Republican leaders used a press conference after the meeting to once again demand negotiations to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
“Americans expect us to work out our differences, but refusing to negotiate is an untenable position,” Boehner said. “And frankly by refusing to negotiate, Harry Reid and the president are putting our country on a pretty dangerous path.”
“Listen, there’s never been a president in our history who did not negotiate over the debt limit. Never. Not once,” he added.
Boehner would not say what Republicans would insist upon in exchange for a debt limit hike, and he would not discuss a possible short-term increase to buy time to hash out a bigger deal.
“I want to have a conversation. I’m not drawing any lines in the sand,” he said. “It’s time for us to just sit down and resolve our differences.”
Boehner and his leadership team had tried last month to build support among Republicans for a one-year suspension of the debt limit in exchange for a long list of party priorities. But conservatives balked, and the Speaker did not reiterate that demand.
“There’s no boundaries here,” Boehner added. “There’s nothing on the table. There’s nothing off the table. I’m doing what I can to bring people together to have a conversation.”
Despite Boehner's suggestion to the contrary, a spokesman for the Speaker said he was not backing off his rule, first articulated in 2011, that any increase in the debt ceiling comes with an equal or greater amount of spending cuts and reforms.
The original debt supercommittee was charged with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years. It failed in November 2011, triggering automatic discretionary cuts known as sequestration that began in March 2013. The original supercommittee's legislation would have enjoyed fast-track status in the Senate and simple majority vote.
The new working group does not appear to enjoy the legal authority of the original supercommittee, however.