WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders are proposing a six-week increase in the nation's $16.7 trillion debt ceiling as a way of avoiding a first-ever U.S. default on debts. The White House has indicated that it might be something President Obama could accept, depending on the details of the bill.
If there is enough support within the party, the House could vote as early as Thursday evening. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, proposed the plan to the full Republican conference Thursday morning. The plan would extend the debt ceiling to Nov. 22.
The decision to seek approval for a short-term increase is in part because Obama and congressional Democrats have declined to engage with Republicans in budget talks. The Treasury says the nation will hit its debt ceiling Oct. 17 and would begin defaulting on debts shortly thereafter.
Democrats have said they will only negotiate after Republicans vote to increase the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown, now in its 10th day. Boehner's plan does not address the ongoing shutdown. "That's the conversation we're going to have with the president today," Boehner said, when asked what it would take to reopen the government.
Boehner said the Republicans' decision to move a clean increase was their way of meeting Obama halfway. "it's time for leadership. It's time for these negotiations and this conversation to begin," he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday Obama would likely sign even a short-term debt ceiling hike as long as there were no conditions attached, but it's unclear if House Republicans would do that.
"If a clean debt bill is passed, he would likely sign it," Carney said, but he added that Obama would have to examine the specific legislation. Carney added that it would "far better" to raise the debt ceiling for "an extended period of time" that is longer than six weeks.
But he said it's "at least an encouraging sign" that House Republicans are considering a debt ceiling increase.
"We'll see what they can pass, and consider it then," Carney said.
Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, would not say if the White House would agree to go along with a short-term deal, but said the White House believes "longer is better."
"The Senate has a plan to do it for a year," Furman told reporters at an event hosted by the liberal Center for American Progress on Tuesday morning. "That's better for certainty. That is better for everything."
Boehner will lead a team of 18 GOP lawmakers to the White House Thursday afternoon to meet privately with Obama.
"We're coming there with the idea of working together. We're coming there with the idea of common ground," said Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Senate Democrats will also meet Thursday with Obama, and Republican senators have been invited to the White House for similar talks Friday morning.
The budget impasse began ten days ago when Republicans initially said they would support a stopgap funding measure without an agreement to delay or defund Obama's signature health care law. Republicans have moved on from that demand and are now seeking broader fiscal reforms on taxes and entitlement programs.
Obama and congressional Democrats have said they would not negotiate over the health care law or other budget issues only after the government is reopened and the debt ceiling is raised.
Contributing: Aamer Madhani