House GOP may add budget cuts to debt limit bill

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are considering demanding Medicare and other budget savings, reining in the Obama administration's environmental agenda including greenhouse gas restrictions, and other proposals as the price for extending the government's ability to borrow money, GOP lawmakers and aides said Friday.

Republicans said that during closed-door discussions this week about what to include in upcoming legislation renewing federal borrowing authority, options have included blocking administration plans to curb coal ash pollution; forcing civil servants to contribute more to their retirement plans; and requiring Congress to approve many major regulations.

Other items considered all but certain to be included are a one-year delay in Obama's 2010 health care law; an easing of obstacles to building the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Texas coast; and a timeline for enactment of a broad tax code overhaul.

The proposals, for which no final decisions have been made, represent many of the GOP's top legislative priorities and are sure to run into opposition from President Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Senate. Obama has said he wants Congress to send him legislation that simply extends the government's $16.7 trillion debt limit, and has said he will not negotiate it.

The government is expected to exhaust its ability to borrow money in mid- to late October. That would threaten a first-ever federal default, which many analysts believe would deal a severe blow to the economy.

Top Republicans have said they do not want a federal default and have noted that past presidents, including Obama in 2011, have negotiated over past bills to extend the debt limit.

Most of the options were described by congressional officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions. But some lawmakers described some of the plans openly.

Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., a member of the House GOP leadership team, said leaders were discussing a debt limit extension bill that would include budget savings at least equaling the amount by which the debt limit was being increased. He said the savings would come from a still undetermined mix of agency budgets and entitlement programs — automatically paid benefit programs that include Medicare and Social Security.

Lankford said some savings would be measured over a longer period of time than the usual 10-year window, perhaps over 30 or even 75 years. The time period "has to pass the smell test" and not be unrealistic, he said.

Measuring budget reductions over longer periods of time makes it easier to accumulate larger claimed savings.

GOP officials said other possible provisions under discussion have included:

—Blocking the Federal Communications Commission's "net neutrality" rules, which forbid Internet providers from discriminating against firms that provide content and other services over their networks.

—Eliminating funds for some financial industry bailouts, with estimated 10-year savings of $20 billion or more, for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and social services block grants.

—Making it harder to sue doctors for malpractice, which proponents say would save billions for Medicare and other federal programs because physicians would order fewer tests.

—Trimming federal payments to hospitals that serve large numbers of low-income patients, saving an estimated $5 billion.

Some GOP lawmakers also want to repeal the tax on some medical devices enacted under the health care law.

On Friday, Republicans pushed legislation through the House averting a government shutdown when money runs out on Oct. 1. But it included language blocking funds for Obama's health care law — a condition certain to die in the Democratic-led Senate and that Obama has said would result in his vetoing the bill.

Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., said that once the Senate returns that bill to the House shorn of language blocking money for the health care law, Republicans will try to move the debate "into a bigger, broader negotiation" over the debt limit and other issues.

"We're building negotiating leverage to get to the end game," he said, adding that Republicans want the talks to focus on the debt limit "and what do we get in return."

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AP Special Correspondent David Espo contributed to this report.

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