WASHINGTON – House Speaker John A. Boehner has told fellow Republicans he would not have enough votes from his conservative majority to raise the debt limit and would have to rely on Democrats, as GOP leaders try to set the framework for a broader bipartisan budget deal to reopen government.
Boehner assembled his kitchen cabinet for a lunch meeting Thursday as leaders began to shape the demands they will make in exchange for raising the debt limit by Oct. 17 to prevent what the Treasury Department and economists say would be a catastrophic federal default.
Those in the meeting said Boehner stopped short of saying he would prevent a debt default if it meant he had to violate the Hastert Rule – the informal GOP rule that says a speaker should not seek to pass legislation without a majority of the House GOP behind him.
“I don’t think he’s prepared to do that,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who attended the meeting.
“He can’t do what his conference won’t do. And what this conference won’t do is raise the debt ceiling without doing something about the deficit,” Cole said. “I don’t think you can get the majority of the majority to raise the debt ceiling without doing something on the budget.”
Essentially resigned that they cannot win support from enough conservative House Republicans for a no-strings bill to fund the government, the leadership has shifted to trying to draft a broader budget deal to resolve the next battle: the debt ceiling. That all but ensures a prolonged government shutdown.
Earlier in the week, Boehner sought to calm some moderate-minded conservatives who appeared ready to end the shutdown by forcing a vote on a measure that did not include any efforts to repeal President Obama’s healthcare law.
One unnamed lawmaker was cited in news reports as saying that Boehner indicated he was prepared to leave conservatives behind and rely on Democrats to raise the debt ceiling to avoid default.
Boehner’s office declined to discuss the speaker’s conversations.
“Speaker Boehner has always said that the United States will not default on its debt, but if we're going to raise the debt limit, we need to deal with the drivers of our debt and deficits,” a spokesman said.
With a delay of Obamacare unlikely to be accepted by the president, Republicans are expected to revisit the components of past budget battles: cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs, as well as reforming the tax code, a long-standing interest.
They may also seek to gain administration approval of the Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the United States and pursue smaller changes to the healthcare law, including the repeal of the tax on medical-device makers and an end to the individual patient advisory board.