* House Speaker prepared for fiscal battle
* Rebellious conservatives watching Boehner's moves
By Rachelle Younglai
WASHINGTON, March 21 House Speaker John Boehner
and his fellow Republicans say they are preparing to use the
next debt limit deadline to fight for further spending cuts and
major changes to federal healthcare and retirement programs.
Boehner's demand that any debt cap increase be matched with
commensurate budget savings sets up Republicans for another
fiscal battle with the Obama administration and a possible
repeat of the 2011 debt limit brawl that cost the United States
its top credit rating.
"Dollar for dollar is the plan," Boehner told reporters on
Thursday after the House passed a budget for next year that
would cut domestic programs drastically but is not going to be
approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The government is on track to hit the limit on how much it
can borrow around May 19. The U.S. Treasury can use emergency
maneuvers so the administration can continue to pay bills such
as interest on its debt.
But those measures are expected to run their course in July
or August and Congress will have to raise the ceiling again or
risk a damaging debt default.
In Boehner's weekly press conference, the speaker added that
while he will seek cuts, he was "not going to risk the full
faith and credit of the federal government."
His office later said Boehner's goal was not to default but
to extract spending cuts from the administration of President
Whether he and other Republicans will make good on their
threat is an open question. In January, after months of saying
they would block an increase in the debt limit unless Obama
offered significant cuts, Republicans switched gears and
extended the borrowing authority through May.
"We need to make sure that we have ... some real entitlement
reform or real cuts," Representative Raul Labrador told
reporters at a meeting of conservative lawmakers this week.
Without meaningful deficit reduction, "I don't think anybody
here (House Republicans) will support the raising of the debt
ceiling," the Idaho Republican said.
Kansas Republican Representative Tim Huelskamp, who was also
at the meeting, said the debt ceiling remained the best
opportunity to do something about the country's debt burden.
"This is going to be where the rubber meets the road," he
Republicans argue that even if they fail to raise the debt
limit, Congress could avoid default by instructing the Treasury
to prioritize its various payments, putting bondholders first.
"We're willing to lay that out in law, to try to maybe
create a statute that maybe makes it explicit," Representative
Steve Scalise, the head of the largest group of House
conservatives, told Reuters.