Boehner Pushes Short-Term Debt Ceiling Fix

An attempt to end the Washington impasse

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Speaker of the House John Boehner on October 10, 2013 in Washington, DC.

House Speaker John Boehner asked Republican lawmakers Thursday to support a six-week extension of the country’s debt limit, a late attempt to head off a last-minute showdown that economists have warned could have dire consequences.

Boehner brought the proposal to his rank-and-file members during a Thursday morning meeting at the Capitol, before a group of House GOP leaders are set to visit President Barack Obama at the White House in the afternoon. Speaking to reporters after, Boehner said it was an effort to “move halfway to what [Obama’s] demanded.”

Boehner’s debt ceiling increase measure would be “clean” — that is, not conditioned on spending cuts or changes to Obama’s health care law, both of which Republicans have been fighting for during the continuing government shutdown and looming debt-limit crisis. It would not do anything to end the shutdown, now 10 days old. But a vote on the measure could come as early as Friday. Republicans made clear they want the extension to spark real negotiations on a larger budget deal, though it remained to be seen what forcing mechanisms would be included in any legislation.

“There is very little time left — we cannot waste any more time,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said. “What we have discussed as a conference is a temporary extension of the debt ceiling in exchange for a real commitment by this President and the Senate Majority Leader to sit down and talk about the pressing problems that are facing all the American people. And that includes a broad array of issues. We look forward to that happening.”

Democrats reacted to the news of a short-term escape from the Oct. 17 debt-limit deadline tepidly, but said they were willing to consider it.

“We will see if something like that could pass the House,” a Democratic aide said. “We would prefer something longer term to take away the uncertainty and constant crises, but as long as it’s a clean bill it would almost certainly be acceptable.”

President Obama has said he will sign a short term extension to avert a potentially damaging debt-limit crisis but that he will not negotiate on other policy proposals attached to any such extension.

“The President has made clear that he will not pay a ransom for Congress doing its job and paying our bills,” a White House official said Thursday. “It is better for economic certainty for Congress to take the threat of default off the table for as long as possible, which is why we support the Senate Democrats’ efforts to raise the debt limit for a year with no extraneous political strings attached.”

Alex Rogers contributed reporting