Does this sound familiar? House Republican leadership are looking closely at the calendar, with the debt-ceiling limit about to hit on October 17th, just three days away, and Senate rules setting up a picket fence of delays for any solution to it to pass. While Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid tangle in the upper chamber, John Boehner is considering just how much he can attack to a debt-ceiling increase and still get Reid to put it to a vote:
House Republican leadership aides say if some compromise isn’t unveiled by Reid and McConnell on Monday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other top GOP lawmakers could move to pass their own six-week extension of borrowing authority on Tuesday. The GOP sources cautioned that no decision has been made to take such an action yet, although House leaders are preparing for that scenario.
“There will be a time fairly soon, I think, where the only option to get something done before the deadline is originating legislation in the House,” a senior Republican aide told POLITICO.
That doesn’t mean that the House version would be a simple increase, but it’s not likely to contain anything dramatic, either:
Yet, Boehner and his top lieutenants are cognizant that this legislation must be something Reid, McConnell and President Barack Obama could accept. That means Republicans won’t try to wholly defund Obamacare — the president’s signature legislative accomplishment — as part of this bill. On Friday, Obama rejected the House Republican proposal, shifting the focus on the budget talks to the Senate.
Attaching the so-called Vitter amendment to the debt-limit increase is one option, according to House GOP sources. That provision would end health-insurance subsidies for members of Congress, their aides and other federal government employees. Another option is delaying or repealing the medical device tax. Reid and Senate Democrats have opposed both proposals so far, but with the debt limit clock ticking, House Republicans may have more leverage now.
At this point, the medical-device tax would be difficult to undo, mainly because Democrats want a replacement for the revenue before repealing it. Not only would that be impossible to structure in three days, it would force Republicans to raise taxes somewhere else, which will be a non-starter in the House GOP caucus. The Vitter amendment would be the best ground for Republicans. It’s the high moral ground, for one thing, and it’s clean — it doesn’t complicate any revenue or tax streams. If all Republicans ask in a short-term debt-ceiling increase is to have Congress get the same treatment as everyone else does under ObamaCare, refusing it would be political suicide.
Waiting on the Senate might be a problem, though, because McConnell and Reid are at each other’s throats personally as well as professionally:
Here’s one of the worst kept secrets in Washington: The two men tasked with finding a solution to the government shutdown and the looming debt ceiling deadline over the next few days don’t like each other all that much.
Here’s why. McConnell is up for re-election in 2014, a race that is expected to be close and is already contentious. And, for McConnell and Reid, it has gotten personal. After the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC for which Reid has helped raise money, began advertising against McConnell over the summer, the Kentucky Senator confronted his Nevada colleague on the Senate floor — telling him “I see your super PAC is up in Kentucky. Come on down, I hope you spend it all down there,” according to Politico’s Manu Raju and John Bresnahan. Reid denied any involvement.
The back and forth highlights a delicate dance between the leaders of the two parties in the Senate when it comes to their re-election bids. The tradition had long been that the Senate’s two leaders would not actively campaign against each other in their respective home states; that ended in 2004 to much fanfare, when Senate GOP Leader Bill Frist actively campaigned against Democratic leader Tom Daschle. (The Senate, like baseball, is governed by all sorts of unspoken rules that each side tends to define differently.)
What that incident means is that McConnell will always be suspicious of Reid’s motives any time they work together. (That is not to say Reid is culpable for directing an attack against McConnell, but rather that because the Kentucky senator thinks Reid has already crossed the line, he will see everything that happens through a political — and skeptical — lens.)
Reid has plenty of reason to be leery of McConnell as well — most notably a fiery exchange in the run-up to the possible use of the nuclear option on confirming executive branch nominees. McConnell said that if Reid exercised that option he would be “remembered as the worst leader here ever.” McConnell’s campaign team also tweeted a picture showing a gravestone with the words “Harry Reid…Killed the Senate” on it.
So basically, Congress is a kindergarten. Still, I’d predict that if the House can quickly pass a clean 6-8-week debt ceiling bill with nothing but the Vitter amendment, both Reid and McConnell would have no choice but to pass it, and fight over the next round with the extra time it affords.