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GOP ditches plan to tie debt ceiling to Obamacare, Keystone

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Republican leaders have concluded they cannot pass a debt limit increase that also requires building the Keystone XL pipeline or repealing a provision of Obamacare, leaving some in the GOP saying they should just let a clean hike pass with mostly Democratic votes.

A GOP leadership aide said Wednesday the party does not have the votes to pass the Keystone requirement or the Obamacare rollback.

"Following informal conversations with a broad range of members, it is clear we cannot get 218 Republican members to support a debt limit increase along with either Keystone or the insurance company bailout," the aide said. "We're exploring a range of other options."

The White House says the federal debt ceiling must be raised this month or the country could risk defaulting on its loans.

Republicans have long insisted any debt increase be tied to other spending cuts, but have struggled to rally around an idea that can both pass the House and get through the Senate.

Rep. Raul Labrador, a conservative Republican from Idaho, said Wednesday it's time for Republicans to allow a "clean" extension of the debt ceiling to pass the House and insisted that such a move would not be a concession on the part of the GOP.

"I think the speaker should just allow the Democrats to pass a clean debt ceiling," Mr. Labrador said at a Heritage Foundation event Wednesday.

Mr. Labrador said he's not opposed to fighting on principle, but that sending anything to the Senate, where he says it would be summarily dismissed by Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, would be a losing battle.

"Why make a false argument to the American people that we are fighting on the debt ceiling?" he said.

Rep. Joe Barton, Texas Republican, however, said passing a clean debt ceiling extension would be "capitulation."

"There are not 218 votes for a clean debt ceiling on the Republican side," he said, adding that there would be less than 50 or 60 by his count.

Mr. Boehner has repeatedly said he will not allow the country to default on its obligations, but has also acknowledged the difficulty of getting a clean debt limit increase through the House.

There had also been talk among Republicans about tying approval of the $7 billion Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline to the debt ceiling. But Mr. Boehner eventually allowed a vote on an essentially clean package to extend the deadline to February and reopen the government after a partial shutdown, which passed with mostly Democratic votes in the House.

The White House has repeatedly said it will not negotiate on extending the debt limit, and it appears to have an ally in Mr. Reid.

As Mr. Labrador alluded, the Senate swatted down measure after measure from the House in the fall that would have reopened parts of the federal government in exchange for, as one example, a one-year delay in Obamacare's individual mandate provision.

"Let me be clear: We cannot and will not play games with the full faith and credit of our country," Mr. Reid told reporters this week. "The American people want the economy to grow and our economy needs certainty. So let's do the right thing and move on."

The Obamacare provision that had been broached in the House deals with so-called "risk corridors" for insurance companies, which are designed to hedge against extraordinary gains or losses among insurers over the next three years.

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