House Speaker John Boehner is trying to make one last deal as he heads for the exits, pushing to finalize a far-reaching, two-year budget agreement before handing Congress’ top job over to Paul Ryan this week, congressional officials said Monday.
The deal, in concert with a must-pass increase in the federal borrowing limit, would solve the thorniest issues awaiting Ryan, who is set to be elected speaker on Thursday. It would also take budget showdowns and government shutdown fights off the table until after the 2016 presidential election, a potential boon to Republican candidates who might otherwise face uncomfortable questions about messes in the GOP-led Congress.
Congress must raise the federal borrowing limit by November 3 or risk a first-ever default, while money to pay for government operations runs out December 11 unless Congress acts. Top House and Senate aides have been meeting with White House officials in search of a deal that would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies budget relief in exchange for cuts elsewhere in the budget.
“We’re just trying to get something done as soon as we can,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Monday as he left the Capitol headed for a lunch hosted by former senators at the Metropolitan Club, where President Barack Obama was also to be in attendance.
Asked whether a deal could be announced Monday or Tuesday, Reid said: “We’ll see.”
Details were sketchy but the tentative pact anticipates designating increases for the Pentagon as emergency war funds that can be made exempt from budget caps. Non-defense spending would get an increase as well, though not the full amount demanded by Obama in his February budget.
“From our perspective, ending sequester and getting a clean debt ceiling increase have long been our objectives,” a Democratic Senate aide told Business Insider. “We’re pretty optimistic we’ll achieve them and stave off current and future crises.”
Lawmakers hoped to address two other key issues as well: a shortfall looming next year in Social Security payments to the disabled and a large increase for many retirees in Medicare premiums for doctors’ visits and other outpatient care.
Officials who described the deal did so on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about confidential negotiations.
Just days are left for the deal to come together before Ryan is elected on Thursday to replace Boehner, who is leaving Congress under pressure from conservative lawmakers disgusted with his history of seeking compromise and Democratic votes on issues like the budget.
The deal would make good on a promise Boehner made in the days after announcing his surprise resignation from Congress last month. He said at the time: “I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn. I want to clean the barn up a little bit before the next person gets there.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest, asked about reports of the deal, told reporters Monday that since “not everything has been agreed to, that means nothing has been agreed to
The last two times the debt ceiling has been raised, Republicans and the White House have bickered over the conditions. Then, typically, faced with the potential of default on the table, Republicans cave as the deadline gets close, and House Republican leadership puts a “clean” increase of the debt limit on the floor.
This time, though, there’s a distinct difference – a simple math problem – that leaves a veil of uncertainty hanging around the looming deadline: There may not be enough House Republicans to support a “clean” increase.
A look at the math:
- The last time the debt ceiling was raised, in early 2014, only 28 House Republicans voted with virtually every Democrat. Of those 28 House Republicans, nine are gone, and many of them have been replaced by more hard-line Republicans more opposed to raising the debt limit. There are currently 188 Democrats in the House. That means if every one of those Democrats votes to raise the ceiling, Republicans need to find 30 votes to pass the bill.
“I just don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen. The whole scenario around this debt-ceiling vote is so much different than other debt-ceiling votes – there’s not really an analog,” one GOP aide told Business Insider.