Republicans Offer Little Clarity on Debt Ceiling Strategy

With the U.S. set to reach its debt limit next Friday, Republicans opposed to increasing the nation's borrowing authority with no strings attached still aren't clarifying how they intend to achieve their goal

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Amanda Whitlock / News Tribune / AP

Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois speaks to the crowd at Starved Rock State Park Lodge and Convention Center in Utica, Ill.

With the U.S. set to reach its debt limit next Friday and all financing options running out sometime in February, Republicans opposed to increasing the nation’s borrowing authority without spending cuts  or other conditions still aren’t clarifying how they intend to achieve their goal.

At a press conference Thursday touting younger members at the conference’s annual retreat on the bank of the Choptank river, Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Martha Roby (R-Ala.), Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), Jason Smith (R-Mo.), Andy Barr (R-Ky.), and Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.)  were asked point blank if they favored a “clean” debt limit hike as Democrats support. All shook their heads no. Then David Espo of the Associated Press asked what they would like instead.

“I am so surprised that the President has abdicated leadership and has always asked Congress to be the leaders of the American people,” responded Kinzinger. “Our job is to debate issues. We can be leaders within our district and we can be leaders within the country, but the executive branch is the one that is supposed to lead.”

“One more question,” said the members’ handlers, and another on the debt ceiling was posed. Kinzinger said he wouldn’t deal with hypotheticals, but that the United States shouldn’t default on its debt. He then added it was “irresponsible” for the President to not attempt to reduce the debt. Again asked what he would do to avert the debt limit, Kinzinger responded, “That’s my answer, man.”

Stung by the implementation of the Budget Control Act, which slashed $85 billion across the board of government programs in 2013, President Obama and Senate Democrats held firm in their demands during the October government shutdown, and eventually raised the debt ceiling with few conditions attached. As a result, the GOP finds its promises to oppose a clean debt ceiling increase carrying little weight.

More senior members at the retreat haven’t provided much more clarity. Before speaking to his colleagues on debt limit strategy, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp said the conference is in the “preliminary” stage of talks. Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise suggested removing the link between the debt ceiling and the risk of default through the Full Faith and Credit Act. Speaker of the House John Boehner said he would continue to talk to his members Thursday afternoon on a way forward, and that America wouldn’t default.

“I think we’d be glad to set terms, but as we saw through the shutdown, they [Democrats] were not interested in talking about anything,” said Stutzman. “It takes two to tango, and at some point they are going to have to put something forward.”

On Wednesday, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) referred TIME’s question on the debt-ceiling to the House leadership, explaining that they have the point on strategy. When asked if the public would stomach another protracted debt ceiling showdown, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) simply told TIME, “No.”