U.S. House returns to infighting over next speaker, fiscal woes

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 20, 2015 1:07 PM

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives returned on Tuesday from a recess with no set plan for replacing retiring Speaker John Boehner and no discernable progress on budget negotiations, congressional aides said.

House Republicans will huddle privately late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday to discuss the two matters, which have become intertwined, according to aides who asked not to be identified.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Fed Governor Jerome Powell met with Senate Finance Committee members to discuss a third pressing issue, the need for action on raising federal borrowing authority before a Nov. 3 deadline.

House and Senate Republican and Democratic leadership staff worked over the 10-day recess trying to find a winning formula for funding federal agencies beyond Dec. 11, when current money expires.

Unless progress comes soon, lawmakers' goal of writing a two-year budget deal could evaporate with the focus shifting to just paying for agency programs through Sept. 30, 2016, when the presidential campaigns will be in full throttle.

One veteran House Republican aide said there had been no progress in those staff-level discussions over the recess.

Boehner, who is scheduled to leave Congress on Oct. 30, is aiming to pass a debt limit increase as early as this week, according to the House Republican aide.

House leadership spokesmen would not comment on timing for a bill that has little Republican backing.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he would await action by the House on the debt limit before taking it up. Furthermore, McConnell said Republicans do not want a debt limit increase without other measures attached, but he would not elaborate.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said debt limit action will come before budget action. "We're going to take them one at a time."

Quick passage of a debt limit bill with strong Democratic support, besides calming jittery financial markets, would save whoever the next speaker is from an early, divisive Republican Party fight.

Many House Republicans hope House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan runs for speaker, a job he has been saying he does not want. Other Republicans are lining up in case Ryan stays out.

Representative Xavier Becerra, a member of the House Democratic leadership, said failure to promptly raise the debt limit could jeopardize Washington's ability to pay November benefits to 25 million Social Security recipients who are among the program's oldest and poorest.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Dan Grebler, Bernard Orr)