By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON Feb 10 U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, the Tea Party firebrand who egged on Republicans in the House of Representatives during last year's government shutdown battle, said on Monday it would be "irresponsible" for Congress to grant President Barack Obama a debt limit increase without spending reforms.
Cruz, who spoke to reporters after remarks at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said he hoped the House would not "go down that road" of agreeing to an increase in the government's borrowing authority without demanding measures to rein in long-term deficits.
"President Obama is asking Congress to give him a blank check to allow him to keep maxing out the credit card without doing anything to fix the problem. I think that's irresponsible," Cruz said.
House Republicans were due to meet on Monday at 5:30 p.m. EST (2230 GMT) in the Capitol to hash out a plan for a debt limit bill, according to party aides. Among options under consideration were attaching a provision to repeal military pensions cut approved in December or another that would prevent a decline in payments to doctors under the Medicare healthcare program for the elderly.
Both options would increase deficits unless they are accompanied by offsetting spending cuts elsewhere. They would not represent the significant cuts to federal benefits programs requested by many Republicans to shrink the U.S. debt burden.
"We'll have to wait to see what the details are (of the House proposal) but in my view we should not raise the debt ceiling without significant structural reform to fix the problem to stop the out-of-control spending," Cruz added.
Cruz was a central figure in the government shutdown battle in fall 2013, with his campaign to deny funds to President Barack Obama's health insurance reform law.
His efforts, together with those of outside conservative groups, were highly influential in persuading House Republicans to vote to block government funding for the new fiscal year if it included money for the law.
The standoff launched a 16-day shutdown of many government agencies on Oct. 1 and caused financial markets to fret over the debt limit, which needed an increase shortly thereafter. Since then, Congress has reached two minor budget deals and talk of brinkmanship has subsided.
Cruz did not say whether he would seek to use procedural tactics to try to block or delay Senate consideration of any debt limit hike that does not include spending reforms.
Obama and Democrats have insisted on a debt limit hike that is free of any conditions.