GOP to Seek Short-Term Debt Ceiling Extension

(NBC News) -- Republicans said they would seek a short-term extension of the nation's debt limit in hopes of jump-starting fiscal talks with President Barack Obama.

Hours before the GOP leadership heads to the White House to sit down with Obama to figure out how to reopen the government and avert defaulting on the national debt, Republicans said they would address one part of that threat. The matter of how or when Congress might end the government shutdown is still very much unresolved.

The GOP leadership said it would offer legislation to temporarily increase the debt ceiling -- for about six weeks or so -- to allow time for negotiations with Obama over a broader budget deal.

White House press secretary Jay Carney called the development "encouraging."

"The president is happy that cooler heads at least seem to be prevailing in the House," Carney said at the daily press briefing.

But the administration has not committed to Obama necessarily supporting the Republican offer. The president has repeatedly called on Congress to both reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, though Carney noted that Obama had previously said he could accept a debt ceiling extension on its own.

"I would hope that the president would look at this as an opportunity and a good-faith effort on our part to move halfway to what he's demanding in order to have these conversations begin," Boehner said following a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans.

An extension of the debt ceiling, without conditions, would represent somewhat of a concession to Obama, who has demanded that Republicans both reopen the government and raise the government's debt limit – even for a short period of time – as a precondition to sitting down at the bargaining table.

"Re-open the government, extend the debt ceiling," Obama said Tuesday afternoon at the White House. "If they can't do it for a long time, do it for a period of time in which in which these negotiations are taking place."

But the Republican plan leaves the topic of the ongoing government shutdown unaddressed. A protracted shutdown has left hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed without pay, and millions more affected by the effects of the fiscal impasse. The shutdown could conceivably drag on longer throughout fiscal negotiations, even as Obama and Republicans work to hammer out an overarching fiscal deal.

Asked when the GOP would reopen the government, Boehner responded: "That's a conversation we're going to have with the president today."

That could be a sticking point, though, to even getting Obama to agree to negotiate.

"Congress needs to pass a clean debt limit increase and a funding bill to reopen the government," a White House official said.

It's also not clear whether a short-term negotiating window would yield any more productive outcomes than during previous negotiations over the past few years. Failing to reach an agreement would threaten to only revive the same battle that has recently plagued Washington a few weeks later, likely around the holiday season. Stocks were up sharply Thursday morning amid the signs of potential progress on the debt ceiling extension, something Wall Street has been paying close attention to as next week's expected deadline looms.

Moreover, Republicans are somewhat divided over what concessions to seek during negotiations from Obama. Some GOP lawmakers wish to undo part or all of Obamacare, while other Republicans are seeking entitlement cuts and still others wish to achieve tax reform. Whether these plans can win support from Obama, though, without giving on the question of taxes or sequester spending levels is another question.

On top of that, Boehner and his team have sometimes struggled to mollify conservatives in the House GOP, who have sometimes broken with their leadership on important fiscal matters in the past. Boehner can't afford to lose more than 18 Republican votes if every Democrat in the House opposes the new Republican strategy.

As the House mulled its path forward, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduced legislation in the Senate that would cleanly raise the debt ceiling through the end of 2014.


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