GOP to colleagues: Increase the debt limit or Harry Reid will do worse

After meeting with members, leadership has learned it does not have sufficient Republican votes to pass a debt-ceiling increase with either the Keystone pipeline or changes to the Affordable Care Act’s risk corridors attached. Earlier this week, those were the two most common measures cited by House Republicans as potential offsets for increasing the debt limit. But a Congressional Budget Office report showing that the health care provision will actually reduce the deficit on its own if left in place, and members’ feelings that they will likely get Keystone anyway and should ask for more within the context of the debt fight, have reduced support for both provisions.

Seeing a ticking clock on the wall—Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warns that the debt limit must be lifted by the end of the month, at the very latest, to avoid default—House leadership and a number of Republican members have pushed the idea in recent meetings that if they don’t act on the debt ceiling soon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will. And, they warn, he’ll attach an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, guaranteed to gain traction with Democrats in both chambers, but also guaranteed to cause heart palpitations among Republicans because it may not be paid for.

“We have to recognize that we’re not the only people who can play offense,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who is close to House leadership, on Wednesday. “If the Senate wants to start moving, it could. And far better for us to have the initiative, so to speak, than be sitting here reacting to whatever the Senate sends over.”