Reuters is reporting Thursday on a strategy that appears to be picking up steam within the Republican Party — moving on from threatening a potential government shutdown to using the debt ceiling as leverage to force action on the Affordable Care Act.
There’s not a lot new here from what GOP aides were discussing last week. But Reuters does report that an aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the debt limit could be a “good leverage point” on Obamacare — the most candid on-the-record admission that the strategy is being discussed in a proposal to appeal to the more conservative members of the party that want Obamacare defunded.
According to discussions with aides last week, the GOP could pass a 60-day continuing resolution that keeps the government funded at existing levels under sequestration through the end of November — right around the time the debt ceiling will need to be raised. Then, House leadership would use Democrats’ wishes to get rid of sequestration levels to extract concessions.
But it is unclear right now where the Affordable Care Act would fit into this. Republicans could plausibly tie in delays in certain parts of the law — which they still believe is the best strategy at eventually toppling the law altogether — to certain roll-backs in sequestration-level funding, or to some kind of hike in the debt ceiling.
Some, like The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, are already freaking out about this possibility, comparing the trade of a government shutdown fight for one over the debt ceiling to “trading the flu for septic shock.” The possible breach of the debt ceiling — and a default on obligations — would be more catastrophic than a government shutdown, which would have real effects but would mostly come as an inconvenience.
It also represents a very strategic risk for House Speaker John Boehner.
After the fiscal cliff deal in January, Boehner said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he did not view the debt ceiling as the “ultimate leverage” in budget talks with Obama in the near-term.
He said that the sequester cuts would be better leverage, and his gamble paid off. Republicans raised the debt ceiling without issue. Meanwhile, the sequester cuts began kicking in. And, so far, the doom and gloom predicted by the Obama administration hasn’t been felt, in large part.
Going back to making the debt ceiling a focal point represents a risk. The 2011 fight pummelled the Republican image, and it led to a downgrade in the nation’s credit rating.
It’s also worth pointing out the negotiations on Obamacare would have to come after enrollment in insurance exchanges begins on Oct. 1. In essence, Republicans would be demanding a delay in Obamacare implementation as it is being implemented, in exchange for not letting the country default on its obligations.
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