WASHINGTON -- In its ongoing search for a resolution to raise the nation's debt limit by the end of February, House Republican leadership has yet to coalesce around a plan.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) acknowledged the difficulties he currently faces in crafting a bill that can placate the conservatives in his caucus. If he were to attach a provision to the debt ceiling calling Mother Teresa a saint, he said, he "probably couldn't get 218 Republican votes."
In light of those constraints, Boehner didn't rule out the possibility that he would pass a clean bill to raise the nation's borrowing power. But behind the scenes, he and his associates continue to search for an elusive, Republican-backed plan.
"I think we're still looking for the pieces to this puzzle," he said. "But listen, we do not want to default on our debt and we're not going to default on our debt. We're in discussions with members on how to move ahead, we've got time to do this. No decisions have been made."
The latest idea floated by GOP leadership is to seek to reverse cuts made to military pension benefits as part of the budget deal completed at the end of 2013.
The proposal has some obvious political allure: Reversing those cuts has been a priority of both Republicans and Democrats ever since the bill passed. A appropriations bill that passed Congress in January restored the cuts for disabled veterans who retired early. Since then, lawmakers have pressed to repeal the cuts for other veterans. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) has introduced a bill in the Senate to do just that.
But as an attachment to a debt-ceiling hike, reversing the 1 percent reduction in the cost of living adjustments for military pensions for those up to the age of 62 creates a major, related problem. It raises the deficit by roughly $5.6 billion over 10 years.
Boehner could simply ignore the cost and proceed with a bill, but he has consistently argued that any debt-ceiling hike should be accompanied by commensurate cuts in spending. Attaching a military COLA restoration to the bill would represent a complete reversal.
The speaker's office is aware of this. In an email to The Huffington Post, top spokesman Michael Steel confirmed that if GOP leadership pursues this route, they would seek to offset the cost with cuts elsewhere.
What those offsets would be isn't yet clear. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told Politico on Thursday that he could support the military pension reduction in exchange for some other cut. But Ryan has also said he would want those offsets to be related to military compensation.
A Democratic Senate aide told HuffPost that if House Republicans seek spending reductions that cut too close to Democratic priorities, they could lose the necessary bipartisan support to get the bill through Congress.
Which means that for all the talks, negotiations and theatrics that have brought House Republicans merely to the point of maybe having a plan, the likelihood exists that the plan won't move the needle at all.