The date of November 3 as the point in which we will reach the debt ceiling was confirmed last week by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The confirmation refutes some criticism that the Administration was playing with the date to increase pressure on Congress. The actual date is is November 3 but some actions could stretch that crisis point to November 5 or a little later. The CBO judgement clarifies the urgency for a fractured House to act. Members of the Freedom Caucus have demanded what they call entitlement reform as a part of that debt ceiling increase. President Obama has said he believes in a straight forward raising of the debt limit without conditions.
How and if the Congress acts is dependent on who holds the office of Speaker of the House. With Congress off last week the leadership race has not become any clearer as some Republicans are holding out hope that Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WS) will give up his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee to take the speakership. He has shown no indication of changing his mind and it should become clearer this week with Congress back whether he is even open to the position under certain conditions. In some quarters more conservative members of the House Republican caucus and some outside conservative groups have started to take shots at Ryan’s conservative credentials. This is despite his conservative voting record which included voting against the last increase in the debt ceiling in January 2014 and voting against an increase in late 2013. As House members wait for a re-assertion by Ryan that he will not run, the Republican “field has been frozen” meaning few other potential candidates have received any significant support.
While the leadership race remains clouded there have been increased suggestions that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will simply make an increase in the debt ceiling as one of his last or one of his last act as Speaker. While there are current discussions between congressional leadership and the White House on a budget deal and increase in the debt ceiling it is widely believed that the current House set up makes that unlikely. Under the current scenarios Boehner would just push through an increase and rescue his party from at least that deadline and its potential political fallout. Such a move by Speaker Boehner would require a heavy reliance on House and Senate Democrats.
When the debt ceiling was last raised in January 2014 the Democrats still held the Senate and it passed the Republican House with only 28 Republicans but with 193 Democrats (221—201). Since that increase Republicans have taken control the Senate with four of their members running for President. In the House nine of the Republican voters have retired and there are fewer Democrats in the House to rely on.