The Next 24 Hours May Be Critical For The Debt Ceiling

Washington dc capitol dusk shadowREUTERS/Jonathan ErnstStaff members walk past the US Capitol dome ahead of President Barack Obama’s first address to a joint session of congress, in Washington, February 24, 2009.

House Republicans will hold a special meeting Monday night to determine their path forward on the debt ceiling, and it’ll be crucial for a deal before the Feb. 27 deadline.

Though House Republicans aren’t putting up a fight with President Barack Obama and Democrats this time around, there’s a simple reason this meeting will be key — time.

As in, there’s not a lot of time left before that deadline. The House are only in session for three days this week, before House Democrats go on their annual strategy retreat. The next full day that Congress is scheduled to be in session is Feb. 26 — one day before the “drop-dead date,” after which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the Treasury will have trouble meeting all of its obligations.

The irony in this debt ceiling fight is that, unlike almost every other fiscal battle since 2011, House Republicans are actively campaigning against a fight with Obama and Democrats. Even the most raucous members of the caucus are urging leadership to avoid “theatre.”

But the lack of a coherent strategy to this point leaves no room for the trial-and-error approach that has accompanied the last few debt-ceiling fights.

“We agree with the conventional wisdom that congressional Republicans are looking for a way to fold, but that path forward remains hazy and it is still possible for them to drown in the glass of water they have poured — and cause economic havoc by failing to raise the debt ceiling in time,” Chris Krueger, a D.C.-based analyst for Guggenheim Partners LLC, wrote Monday.

Monday night’s meeting will likely determine whether the House could possibly bring a bill to the floor this week, as well as if leadership can earn enough support for a bill with its preferred policy riders attached. (Two that have been discussed are the possibility of attaching a “doc fix” on Medicare doctor reimbursement rates and re-instituting some military benefit cuts from last year’s budget deal.)

But if it can’t rally enough Republicans behind that plan, it’s likely that leadership will have to resort to passing a “clean” debt-ceiling bill without policy strings.

Democrats, for their part, know that Republicans are stuck in a corner they created.

“Republican leaders shouldn’t need another meeting to figure out that debt limit brinkmanship doesn’t work, because they are even hearing from their own Tea Party members that they should give up and walk back the ransom demands,” said Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chair of the Senate Budget Committee.

“And when even the Tea Party is admitting defeat, it is time for Speaker Boehner to end the drama and uncertainty.”

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