WASHINGTON -- House Republicans appeared to be searching for a way out of the fiscal showdown Wednesday, as reports surfaced that leaders were talking to members about a short-term increase of the looming debt limit.
Much of the talk appeared to be inspired by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who set the stage with an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, advising that Republicans and Democrats could agree on some cuts and spending reforms.
Ryan reportedly told members of the conservative Republican Study Committee Wednesday morning that they should go along with a short-term hike of the debt limit if President Barack Obama agrees in principle to cuts along the lines of those he suggested in his op-ed.
Another report said House Republicans would have to agree to pass a "clean" hike of the borrowing cap with support from some Democrats to win White House approval.
Obama signaled Tuesday he would accept a short-term clean bill to raise the debt ceiling if no long-term agreement was reached by Oct. 17. But he maintained he would not negotiate over funding the government or paying the bills. A Senate Democratic leadership aide said any deal that included cuts before the government was opened and the debt ceiling raised remained a non-starter on their side of the Hill.
Spokesmen for the House leaders refused to confirm details of the talks. One reaffirmed that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) still wants spending cuts equal to the amount of any increase in the debt limit.
Members of the GOP conference acknowledged there was not yet a firm plan.
"I think that there are some ideas that are percolating, and I think those ideas are part of this process, and I think that as those ideas get vetted among people in formal and informal discussions, then two or three of the better ones start coming to the top," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).
A key formal meeting was set for Thursday morning, when the entire Republican House conference was due to gather in their basement meeting room in the Capitol. Often, tentative strategies emerge from those talks, but they don't always last -- even for a day.
Indeed, some aides on both sides of the aisle said they suspected a real deal would not come until close to the debt limit deadline.
While some Republicans have been flirting with the idea of breaching the limit, others seemed to regard that deadline as the time to get something done.
"Right now we have the deadline of the debt ceiling, which i think most of us recognize -- I recognize -- as a big deal," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) "We can't wait until that passes before we start negotiating on that. "
Kingston said he didn't see a resolution to the government shutdown until constituents pressure members of Congress to end it.
"I do think that what reopens shutdowns more than policy are polls," Kingston said.
House Democrats who met with Obama Wednesday evening said they preferred extending the debt limit for a longer time, such as a Senate bill proposes, but they suggested they could go along with the stopgap.
"We're not going to vote against making sure that America pays its bills, [but] we think it ought to be a longer term for the economy and the growth of jobs," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) after the meeting. "Jobs, after all is really what we ought to be working on.”
This article has been updated with Democratic response.