WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republican leaders are considering a short-term increase in the U.S. debt limit as a possible way to break the gridlock that threatens the nation with an unprecedented default in as little as a week, officials said Wednesday night.
These officials said there is far less urgency inside the leadership about ending the current nine-day partial government shutdown, which has caused inconvenience and financial concern for many individual Americans but appears not to threaten the widespread economic damage a default might bring.
The officials declined to say what conditions, if any, might be attached to legislation to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit for an undetermined period, perhaps a few weeks or months. The GOP rank and file is expected to meet privately to discuss the issue on Thursday, before a delegation led by Speaker John Boehner goes to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama.
The officials describing the developments late Wednesday spoke only on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose details of private deliberations.
Obama has said he won't agree to sign a debt limit increase if conditions are attached. Republicans indicated several days ago they intended to seek spending cuts to reduce deficits, measures to roll back environmental regulations and changes in the nation's 3-year-old health care law.
More recently, the GOP-controlled House has passed legislation to create a 20-member group of lawmakers from the House and Senate to negotiate over those and other issues. The bill makes no mention of an increase in the debt limit, but the two topics could be combined in a potential face-saving way out of the impasse.
The disclosures came as Obama met at the White House in late afternoon for more than an hour with House Democrats. He told them that while he would prefer legislation extending the Treasury's borrowing ability beyond the next election, he would also sign a shorter-term bill.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has told lawmakers they must raise the debt limit by Oct. 17 to avoid risking a default, but neither house has yet scheduled a vote.
In the Senate, Democrats have proposed a no-strings-attached $1 trillion increase in borrowing authority that is designed to prevent a recurrence of the current confrontation before the 2014 elections. A test vote is scheduled for the weekend, and Republicans have yet to indicate how vigorously they might oppose it.
In addition to House leadership conversations, a group of conservatives met privately during the day for what several officials described as a wide-ranging discussion on the debt limit and the threat — or lack of it — posed by default.
No consensus was reached, but among those who spoke was Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate who is chairman of the House Budget Committee and a prominent deficit hawk. In an op-ed article published during the day in The Wall Street Journal, he wrote, "We need to pay our bills today_and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow. So let's negotiate an agreement to make modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code."
Raising the cost of Medicare for better-off beneficiaries and making changes to the tax code are perennials in budget negotiations, and precisely the type of item Obama says he is willing to discuss — but only after the government is open and the debt limit raised.
The private conversations stood in contrast to political maneuvering that characterized the day at the Capitol.
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