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Topics: House Republicans

House GOP leaders draft plan tying debt limit to veterans' pensions

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Debt Ceiling,Entitlements,PennAve,Economy,Sean Lengell,Budgets and Deficits,Jack Lew,Devin Nunes,Jim Jordan,House Republicans

House Republican leaders have drafted a plan to raise the debt ceiling and reverse a recently passed cut to military pensions, with a vote on the package expected Wednesday.

The leadership briefed their members on their plan during a closed door meeting at the Capitol Monday evening, with conservatives complaining it doesn't adequately address the need to control the nation's ballooning debt and rein in spending.

But with the proposal designed to be palatable to some Democrats and moderate Republicans, those defections may not be enough to doom the measure.

While those at the meeting say some alternative proposals were discussed, leadership showed little interest in any other plan but their own.

"They were pretty much married to this proposal," said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.

Salmon predicted the plan would attract at least 100 Democrats, with possibly 150 Republican votes — enough to pass the measure in the 435-member chamber.

Still, Democrats have insisted that any debt limit legislation be free of add-ons, even bipartisan proposals like repealing military pension cuts, so passage is uncertain.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says the federal government will exceed its borrowing limit on a self-imposed Feb. 27 deadline without Congress raising the debt ceiling. If that happens, the federal government will default on some of its loans, which economists say could trigger a recession, or worse.

Along with raising the debt limit for at least another year, the plan would undo cuts to cost-of-living pension increases for military retirees under the age of 62. The cuts were included in December's budget agreement brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who head their chamber's budget committees.

Reversing the pension cuts has bipartisan support, so GOP leaders tacked it onto the measure as a sweetener to attract both Republican and Democratic votes.

To pay for the cost of canceling the pension cuts, the plan would extend for an additional year a 10-year "sequestration" cut to Medicare reimbursements to doctors and hospitals.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. said he was disappointed with the proposal, particularly the provision to pay for undoing the pensions cuts, characterizing it as fuzzy math.

Brooks added that leadership didn't consult with rank-and-file conservatives like himself when drafting the plan.

"When you get to guessing the mental processes by which this plan was framed you'll have to talk to somebody who was in that process. I was not; a vast majority of our [GOP] members were not,” he said.

The Alabama lawmaker said he hasn't decided if he will support the measure.

Rep. Jim Jordan, a conservative Republican from Ohio, complained the plan "doesn't address the underlining problem ... spending."

But Rep. Devin Nunez, R-Calif., said that while many conservatives aren't happy with the plan, they didn't offer up any fresh alternatives.

"Most of these same people are arguing the same points. They all have their plan, and they're all good plans, but those plans don't have the votes," he said. "I just heard [in the meeting] the same old arguments I've heard for three years."

"Nobody likes any of this, there's problems with every bill we put up. But I think the [GOP] leadership feels this one gives the best chance for Republicans and Democrats to vote for it and to get to the 218 votes," needed for passage, he added.

David Drucker contribute to this report.

This story was published on Feb. 10 at 8:47 p.m. and has been updated.

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Sean Lengell

Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner