GOP tees off (another) debt ceiling showdown

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) approachs the podium for a media briefing on Dec. 17, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) approachs the podium for a media briefing on Dec. 17, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Another year, another debt-ceiling fight. Clearly, America has a lot to look forward to in 2014.

Even though the Senate is slated to approve a bipartisan budget deal, another fiscal fight is on the horizon. Several Republicans are already alluding to yet another showdown over the debt ceiling, risking a self-inflicted blow to the party's already damaged brand.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – who’s up for re-election next year—told reporters that he’s already anticipating another game of chicken over the nation's legal borrowing limit.

The Kentucky lawmaker said he isn’t optimistic his fellow Republicans will allow a debt ceiling hike in 2014 without getting something in exchange.

"I doubt if the House or for that matter the Senate is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase," said McConnell on Tuesday, adding, "We'll have to see what the [GOP-controlled] House insists on adding to it as a condition for passing it.”

And Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who spearheaded the bipartisan budget deal, has said he too wants concessions for not allowing the U.S. to default on its debt. 

"We as a caucus, along with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what it is we’re going to want out of the debt limit," Ryan told Fox News Sunday. “We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we’re going to accomplish out of this debt limit fight.” Ryan also suggested to radio show host Hugh Hewitt that there’s the possibility of using the debt ceiling fight as means to get the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline approved.

President Obama has said that he won’t negotiate on the debt limit and that Congress has an obligation to pay the bills for spending it has already authorized. 

Congress agreed to raise the debt ceiling in October as part of a deal to end the partial government shutdown. But now the government is set to use up its borrowing authority on Feb. 7. It’s possible the Treasury Department could extend temporarily extend the deadline, but without a deal, the U.S. could go into default.

Of course, after the GOP propelled the U.S. into a partial government shutdown earlier this fall, Republican lawmakers took the brunt of the blame from the public. As a result, it seemed as if GOP lawmakers backpedaled, allowing the two-year budget agreement to swiftly pass the House.

And in the Senate, the plan cleared a major hurdle on Tuesday when 12 Republicans joined Senate Democrats in voting 67-33 to end debate on the bill, clearing the 60-vote threshold. 

Of note is 2014's role in this vote: Many who voted to block the deal are up for re-election, including Republican Sens. McConnell, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Pat Roberts of Kansas. The midterms will loom large over the debt-ceiling fight, too with McConnell, especially, not wanting to be seen as caving to the Democrats.

Similarly, McConnell’s primary opponent, GOP businessman Matt Bevin, said, if given the opportunity, he, too, would use the debt-ceiling to get concessions such as defunding Obamacare.

“I do not think we should increase the debt ceiling without significant concessions, and if one of them is the repeal of ObamaCare, then terrific,” Bevin told The Hill.

Meanwhile, Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who worked with Ryan on the bipartisan budget agreement, said she didn’t think a debt ceiling battle will loom in 2014, primarily because of the public backlash against the previous spending showdowns.

“I believe that Congress will do the right thing when the debt ceiling issue comes back to us without preconditions or changes or demands from their corners,” Murray said Wednesday on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown, noting the debt ceiling was precluded from their budget negotiations. “We’ll do the right thing and pay our bills.”