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At retreat, GOP advances debt-limit strategies

Short extension seen tied to other budget problems

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — The chairman of the House Budget Committee on Thursday said the House GOP is considering a short-term extension of the nation's debt limit to buy Democrats and Republicans some additional time to hash out a long-term deficit-reduction deal, and to force a national conversation over the size and scope of the federal budget.

Rep. Paul Ryan, the party's 2012 vice presidential nominee, said the short-term extension — coupled with reforms or spending cuts — is one of several options that lawmakers knocked around during the second day of their four-day retreat here at the sprawling Kingsmill Resort near Colonial Williamsburg.

"We are discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt extension so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and White House involved in discussions in March," Mr. Ryan said. The Wisconsin Republican said a temporary extension would allow lawmakers to focus on the $110 billion in automatic spending cuts set to kick in in early March, and the late March expiration of the continuing resolution, which funds government agencies and programs. "All options are on the table, as far as we are concerned," he said.

"We know we have a debt crisis coming. This is not an 'if' question. It is a 'when' question," he said.

Thus far, President Obama and Democrats have panned the idea of negotiating with Republicans over the $16.4 trillion federal debt ceiling. Mr. Obama made that crystal clear during the final news conference of his first term, warning Monday that Social Security checks and veterans benefits would be put in jeopardy by putting off an increase.

For their part, House Republicans have insisted that leaders extract some sort of spending reductions from the president before agreeing to increase the nation's $16.4 trillion credit limit, which the government is expected to bump up against in mid-February or early March.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr. Ryan suggested that a temporary extension of the debt ceiling also could open the door for tax reform to be tied into a broader package and ramp up the pressure on Senate Democrats to pass a budget for the first time since 2009.

"We think it is incredible that the Senate for three years has ignored the law and refused to pass the budget," he said. "We think we need to have a big debate about a vision for the country and at least how we would budget."

The House GOP's annual retreat comes months after the November election, where the party basically failed to capitalize on the weak economy, losing the presidential race and dropping eight seats in the House.

Over the first two days on getaway, lawmakers have been addressed by a GOP pollster who said their favorability rating was in the tank, and by Patrick Doyle, the CEO of Domino's Pizza, who addressed those in attendance during a session that was billed as "Turning It Around."

"I don't think they picked the Domino's CEO at random," said Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report, who spoke at the conference. "I think the leadership picked him to drive home a message that sometimes you have to make changes, and make painful admissions, like 'Our pizza sucks.'"

The party's image also took a hit in the recent fights over the expiration of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts and over the Hurricane Sandy relief package, where divisions within the party were laid bare.

With those fights now behind them, Mr. Ryan expressed optimism that the House GOP was in a much better negotiating position going into the upcoming fiscal fights than they were heading into the political wrestling match that led to higher taxes on individuals making more than $400,000 a year and households making more than $450,000 a year.

"The president had current law on his side in the 'fiscal cliff' fight," said Mr. Ryan, alluding to the fact that the Bush tax cuts were scheduled to expire on Jan. 1. "He wanted a lot of tax increases. The law was bringing him tax increases.

"Well, we want spending reductions. The law is bringing spending reductions. So, I think the backstop of current law is a different dynamic than it was in the fiscal cliff, and I think it will bring the parties together," he said.

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