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US Debt-Ceiling Fight Could Complicate 'Grand Bargain' Talks

May. 7, 2013 - 03:21PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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WASHINGTON — The White House and senior Republican lawmakers acknowledge they remain far apart on a “grand bargain” fiscal deal to address the defense sequester cuts. But a recurring Washington issue could further complicate striking such a deal: a pending partisan fight over the nation’s borrowing limit.

Some on Capitol Hill expect both chambers will enter contentious talks about whether to raise — or perhaps again temporarily suspend — the nation’s borrowing limit in late summer.

Some analysts say the nation will hit its borrowing limit in August or September.

That would force lawmakers to battle over the debt limit before its annual August recess, set to run from Aug. 3 until after the Labor Day holiday in early September.

That timing could coincide with talks between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans about the kind of grand bargain needed to lessen or replace the last nine years of the national defense and domestic sequestration cuts.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, one of more than a dozen Senate Republicans Obama has been courting in pursuit of a grand bargain, told Defense News in late March that whatever solution the two sides come up with needs to be in place by the time Congress leaves for its August recess.

“I think the next four months are really important because of the momentum that we have,” Corker said. “I think we have to get some kind of agreement in that time to get a real plan in place this year.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters Tuesday a bitter debt-ceiling fight could hinder efforts to reach the so-far elusive bargain that would address the much-maligned sequestration cuts.

“It’s so fragile, anything could derail them. the answer is ‘yeah’,” Levin said. “The possibility is strong enough that it’s not invulnerable to a lot of things.”

As the debt ceiling approaches, Obama on Monday appeared to wade back into the grand bargain waters, golfing with three lawmakers who have pushed hard for such a sweeping fiscal deal: GOP Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mark Udall of Colorado, as well as Corker.

“It was really about golf and relationships. We all said we wouldn’t have a read out of the conversations that took place,” Corker said, calling it a productive afternoon but declining to discuss the conversations they had with the president. “But it was just a really good day, a very good day. ... I think everyone there thoroughly enjoyed it.”

While many senators would like to have a “grand bargain” framework in place by summer’s end — before a debt-ceiling debate — one Washington think tank recently did the math and concluded the nation would not approach its borrowing ceiling until a few weeks later.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, in a report released in late April, concluded the point at which the debt ceiling will be hit “will occur between mid-August and mid-October of 2013, with the most likely points in that range being early September or early October.”

One Republican senator who will be at the forefront of any debt-ceiling battle, Republican fiscal hawk Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was upbeat.

The always-direct Coburn told Defense News: “I don’t think there’s going to be a nasty fight over the debt ceiling.”

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