WILLIAMSBURG, Va.—With three major budget and spending battles looming in Congress this spring, House Republicans will insist on attaching a debt and deficit reduction package to the negotiations, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Thursday.
At a retreat for House Republicans here this week, lawmakers worked to map out a plan for the pending legislative hurdles, which include raising the federal debt ceiling, heading off $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, and renewing a budget resolution set to expire. For now, party leaders are working to educate the caucus, specifically the new members, on each vote in hopes of finding a consensus within the party.
Republicans have long insisted on tying debt reduction to budget and spending negotiations with President Barack Obama. But with polls showing the public strongly siding with Obama on those battles, it's in the GOP's interest to develop strategy to pursue that goal but avert the last minute drama of the recent "Fiscal Cliff" negotiations and the vote to raise the debt ceiling in 2011.
"We believe that it would be wrong if we walk out of this spring with no achievement on debt reduction whatsoever," Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, told reporters at the conference. "We think the worst thing for the economy is to move past these events that are occurring with no progress made on the debt and the deficit."
The deadlines are imminent.
The Treasury Department estimates that federal spending is on track to rise above the current debt limit by mid-February, giving Congress just a month to corral enough votes to lift the debt ceiling and allow the government to continue borrowing. Obama has called for a "clean" vote to raise the debt ceiling and said he will not negotiate with Republicans who want to attach spending cuts to the bill before raising the limit.
Shortly thereafter, on March 1, the so called "sequester"—$1.2 trillion in automatic spending reductions on domestic programs and defense—will kick in, an outcome both parties want to avoid. Then, on March 27, the government could shut down if Congress does not agree to a budget outline for future spending.
Ryan conceded that striking a debt and deficit reduction deal would require compromise, something Republican leaders are working to remind some of the more stubborn members of their caucus of.
"We have to also recognize the realities of the divided government that we have," he said.
As for details about the size of the debt-reduction package, Ryan said details are still being worked out but that "all options are on the table."