Republican Debt Ceiling Offer Tests Fractured House Caucus

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama may have tasked House Republicans with crafting a debt ceiling offer that will once again test divisions within their caucus.

A group of Republicans joined their leaders at the White House Thursday evening with a proposal that would raise the nation's borrowing cap for six weeks, but leave the government unfunded and closed. The shutdown was the main obstacle for Obama, who insisted on a plan to end it. Both sides said discussions would continue.

Back on Capitol Hill, many House Republicans said earlier they didn't like the plan, but were ready to support almost anything resembling progress. While several rank-and-file members shared the president's main gripe -- that the current offer failed to reopen the government -- conservatives said just the opposite. They wanted to leave government funding unresolved so they could keep up the fight against Obamacare.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) took credit for the plan to separate the debt limit from a continuing resolution, telling reporters he approached House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Tuesday to suggest it.

"I said, 'You're going to think this is crazy, but I as a conservative would be willing to vote for a debt ceiling for six weeks,'" Labrador said. "We can't be talking about tax reform and debt relief at the same time that we're talking about Obamacare, and I thought the safest way to do this was to actually separate the two issues.

"When they get conflated, then I think people are going to start caving on both the issues," Labrador added.

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said any government funding bill would have to chip away at Obama's health care law.

"If he doesn't agree to that, I won't agree to the debt ceiling," Fleming said.

House Republicans who attended the meeting were reminded that a continuing budget resolution with anti-Obamacare riders would be dead on arrival in the Senate. While it remains unclear how they'll respond, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) said any plan that reopens the government would be acceptable to a growing number of members.

"I don't like where we are, I don't like the fact that we're in shutdown, and that we're on the verge of default," Rooney told The Huffington Post.

He added some members voiced "huge concerns" that the plan laid out by leadership in a Thursday morning meeting seemed to prolong the shutdown.

"We're talking about having the longest shutdown in the history of this country," Rooney said. "There were plenty of members that got up this morning and said in their districts, which are swing districts, that was going to be potentially fatal for them."

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), one of the most vocal members in favor of a clean continuing resolution, also criticized the plan proposed by Republicans on Thursday.

"It doesn't open the government and that is what has me concerned right now. We need to do both," Dent said.

Dent may get his way, with no foreseeable way out for Republicans, and the release of a brutal poll Thursday evening with record-low approval ratings for the GOP.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the House GOP's deputy whip, said the stage was set for a "defining moment" in John Boehner's speakership.

The greatest challenges of the Ohio Republican's last two years had culminated into what Cole called "the witching hour."

"Everything has come to pass right here ... the debate over Obamacare, the sequester, the end of the fiscal year, and the debt ceiling have all basically converged into a single opportunity for either a disaster or a negotiated success," Cole said.

He thought for a moment, let out a chuckle and added, "I'm going to bet on a negotiated success."

Michael McAuliff contributed reporting.



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