WASHINGTON — Some Republicans are pushing back against a new conservative debt-limit strategy, saying it's the product of what one lawmaker called the "vote no, hope yes" caucus — putting all the pressure on moderate Republicans to avoid fiscal battles.
In recent weeks, a group of conservative Republicans have rallied around an unusual solution to the perennial battle: bring a so-called "clean" debt-ceiling increase to the floor, let Democrats pass it with a handful of Republicans, and move on.
It's a marked shift from the tactics of the previous three years, when conservatives rallied around the idea that must-meet deadlines like a debt-ceiling increase were the moments for the GOP-led House to fight with the president and Democrats over Republican priorities.
The "let Democrats pass it" approach has been embraced by a number of prominent House conservatives including Reps. Raúl Labrador, Michele Bachmann, Justin Amash, and Thomas Massie. The move, which has not been endorsed or floated by House leadership, would require either the majority of Republican members to vote "present" or have a handful of Republicans vote "yes" with Democrats to have such a bill clear the House.
But not everyone in the conference is particularly impressed by the idea.
"That doesn't garner my respect — that approach. To not even try and fight for something what that's saying is: 'The debt limit's got to be raised but I'll just leave it to a few who step up to the plate,' and I'm talking about Republicans to put that card in the slot and hit yes," said Virginia Republican Scott Rigell. "I don't have a lot of respect for that."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, said that while Republicans shouldn't "shoot for the moon," but fight for something they see as achievable — like approval of the Keystone pipeline, he suggested. Like Rigell, he didn't see a Democratic-approved clean debt-ceiling vote as a particularly strong approach.
"Look, leadership isn't about voting present and taking the easy way out. Leadership is about taking a stand. What gets me about that is it's a tacit understanding by some in that group that the debt ceiling has to be increased… they understand it needs to be increased and yet they are unwilling to take a tough stand to increase it," he said. "Political courage isn't just saying no, it's finding a way to get to yes. Unfortunately, the vast majority of my colleagues are willing to find a way to get to yes, but a few aren't."
"It's the 'vote no, hope yes' caucus," he added.
Conservatives are defending the idea as not a change in tune — they all say they are still vehemently opposed to a clean debt ceiling increase — but rather an acknowledgement that the stand-offs have historically ended badly for the GOP, especially when President Obama and Democrats have said repeatedly they will not negotiate over the debt ceiling.
"We've had three years of fighting over the debt ceiling. Unfortunately we have not been victorious in many of those fights and the speaker should just allow the Democrats to pass a clean debt ceiling, the Democrats can own it," Labrador said this week at an event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation.
Another conservative Republican, who did not want to be named, said that leadership was so intent on getting something, even something small, attached to the debt ceiling they were needlessly entering into a losing battle.
"The concerns from a number of conservatives is that you apply some Mickey Mouse appendage to the debt ceiling that doesn't accomplish anything," the Republican said. "You aren't really doing anything, but you are fighting about this and you are giving the president a sledgehammer to beat you over the head so why go through all of that on a vote you know you are going to lose?"
House Speaker John Boehner said last week in a news conference that Republican leadership was still searching for something to attach to the debt ceiling that would get a healthy number of Republican votes but was still looking. Several proposals, including approval of the Keystone Pipeline or a repeal of Obamacare's "risk corridors" were rejected because they would not get 218 Republican votes. Boehner has repeatedly said House Republicans will come up with something and he does not want the country to default on it's debt.
He acknowledged that Republicans will also likely need Democratic votes, and Boehner joked about the difficulty of wrangling his conference into agreement on how to raise the debt ceiling.
"Mother Teresa is a saint now. But you know, if the Congress wanted to make her a saint and attach that to the debt ceiling, we probably couldn't get 218 Republican votes," the speaker said.
Kate Nocera is the DC Bureau Chief for BuzzFeed’s Washington, DC bureau. Nocera is a recipient of the National Press Foundation's 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting on Congress.
Contact Kate Nocera at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.