House Republicans are still publicly pushing Democrats to accept spending cuts in exchange for increasing the country’s borrowing limit. But in private, they’re being clear with their members about the huge economic consequences of breaching the debt ceiling — hammering the point that they can’t use default as a threat in budget negotiations with the White House and Senate.
After meeting with members of the GOP conference at the party’s retreat in Williamsburg on Thursday, VA, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP’s top budget guy, told reporters, in so many words, that they’re trying to talk their members off a ledge.
“I think what matters most is that people have a very clear view of what’s coming, so that there are no surprises,” Ryan said. “And that means setting expectations accordingly, so that we can proceed in a unified basis.”
Despite three looming deadlines — the debt limit, the sequester, and expiration of annual federal appropriations — all of which, if missed, will trigger automatic cuts to federal spending, Republicans can’t expect that Democrats will accede to all of their demands.
“[W]e aspire to give the country a very specific and clear vision about what we think is the right way to go on the major, big issue of the time,” Ryan said. “We have to at the same time recognize the divided government moment we have and the fiscal deadlines that are approaching — what those involve and then how we’re going to proceed forward.”
Ryan hinted that he’ll use his budget resolution this spring to restate the GOP’s long-term goal of smaller government in the future, but he emphasized that the GOP must set it sights lower right now.
“We will present the conference with a budget and then bring it to the floor, we discussed some of our aspirations for what that budget hopes to achieve,” he told reporters. “So that’s from the budget perspective. But as far as what we’re going to achieve with respect to sequester, and debt limit, and CR, we’re just trying to facilitate a conversation.”
Ryan also said Republicans are weighing short-term debt limit increases — a temporary solution to the current brinksmanship that Democrats oppose. He also said it’s his own view that if Congress does breach the debt limit, the Treasury Department can prioritize its obligations to avoid defaulting on payments to creditors — an idea the Obama administration says is unworkable both technically and politically.
But his overarching message was clear. Republicans will try to use coming deadlines to lock in cuts to social programs, but they won’t be swinging for the fences the way they did in 2011.
“We think that the worst thing for the economy is for this Congress and this administration to do nothing to get our debt and deficits under control,” Ryan said. “We think the worst thing for the economy is to move past these events that are occurring with no progress made on the debt and the deficit.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.