Discuss as:

Bruised GOP eyes another debt ceiling standoff

An unlikely group of lawmakers is telling House leaders that a long, partisan fight over the debt ceiling might not be worth it this time: conservative Republicans.

“Let’s avoid the theater and just move on with it,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said Tuesday. “They’re just going to go through the motions anyways, and then whatever ideas conservatives put out there are going to be blamed for whatever standoff there is.”

California Republican Devin Nunes told reporters it was “unlikely” that House Republicans would be able to pass any legislation that they can all agree on.

“But,” he added, “we should try.”

During past budget fights, Republicans have tried to attach items from their policy wish list – like changes to the health care law – to the must-pass debt ceiling hike.

But the White House has made it clear that they do not intend to negotiate on the debt ceiling, the same stance they successfully used during last year’s showdown.

The debate over the next deadline at the end of February has left Republican leaders doing a delicate balancing act. House Speaker John Boehner must weigh the demands of rank-and-file Republicans who want to vote for conservative add-ons – without allowing his party to be blamed for another standoff.

“Nobody wants to default on our debt,” Boehner said. “But while we’re doing this, we ought to do something about either jobs and the economy, about the drivers of our debt.”

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma echoed that sentiment.

“We’re not looking for a big showdown,” he said Tuesday. “But we have this to trigger a reaction to the fact that we’re borrowing money, so we ought to use it.”

One of the options Republicans are weighing would be the repeal of part of the Affordable Care Act that would give insurance companies subsidies if they end up paying considerably more in medical claims than expected. 

Republicans have dubbed that part of the law – called “risk corridors” – a “taxpayer bailout” of the insurance companies if Obamacare fails.

But that plan hit a snag Tuesday, when the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the risk corridors would actually save the government $8 billion through 2017.  

A Republican leadership aide said that report would not have “a substantial impact on the debate,” noting that the CBO estimate is based on an assumption that the risk corridor provision “would not be abused.”

Aides and members also say Republicans could attach an approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to a debt limit increase, a provision that could also garner some support from Democrats.