WASHINGTON – Frustrated with the continuing impasse over the looming expiration of the debt ceiling and the ongoing government shutdown, Rep. Tom Reed is taking matters into his own hands.
Congressional sources said that Reed stood up at a private meeting of GOP House members on Thursday and told them that he was there for them when they tried to defund Obamacare – and that they owe a favor to him and to other electorally endangered lawmakers by backing a temporary hike in the debt ceiling.
Moreover, Reed has been working with a handful of other lawmakers to develop a plan that would not only end the shutdown and the current impasse in Washington, but also aim to prevent them from recurring over the next three years. The plan would allow the debt ceiling to increase automatically and annually so long as Congress meets preset goals involving spending cuts, tax reform and entitlement reform.
“The more that we can come together, the more that we can agree to address these issues long term, I think that makes us stronger and gets us away from government by crisis,” said Reed, R-Corning.
That’s something Reed clearly wants to do – perhaps partly to avoid a political crisis of his own. Reed faces a well-funded Democratic challenger, Tompkins County Legislature Chairwoman Martha Robertson, in a sprawling Southern Tier district where many conservative Republicans are sandwiched between Democrats in Chautauqua County and Ithaca.
As a result, even Republicans worry about Reed’s future – and on Thursday, he spoke up for himself and other lawmakers in the same situation, challenging the GOP’s tea party wing during a private party conference.
Noting that he and other lawmakers from competitive districts were now under fire for the government shutdown the tea party members created, Reed told his colleagues that they should support a six-week extension of the debt ceiling, congressional sources said.
Reed refused to discuss exactly what he said, saying he has a policy of not speaking about what happens in private party conferences. But he acknowledged that his emphasis on the debt ceiling fit into the larger budget strategy he has been developing with Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and a handful of other lawmakers.
“It’s a piece of a puzzle that we’re trying to put together,” he said. It’s a complicated puzzle, but Reed has been spelling it out in meetings of small groups of his colleagues – Democrats included.
Under the still-evolving plan, one year the debt ceiling would increase automatically if Congress came up with a long-term budget plan that cuts spending. Another year, the debt ceiling would increase automatically if Congress passes tax reform. And another year, the debt ceiling would go up automatically if Congress were to enact cost-saving changes to the fiscally challenged Social Security and Medicare programs.
“What I’m envisioning here would probably require help from the other side,” Reed acknowledged. “Do I see 218 Republicans signing onto this? No.”
That’s a far cry from the way Reed was talking just a few weeks ago, when he voiced full-throttled support for tying the continued funding of the government to either defunding or delaying President Obama’s signature health care reform law.
Reed said he still believes Obamacare ought to be stopped, but at the same time, he’s talking like a politician who knows a dead end when he sees one. He noted, for example, that there is growing frustration in the House with Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican tea party favorite from Texas who hatched the strategy that led to the government shutdown.
“There are people that are now disenfranchised with the senator from Texas, who are, like, ‘OK, we’re here – what now?’ ” Reed said To Reed, the answer is obvious: a long-term budget plan that makes some comparatively modest reforms to Obamacare in its first step, but keeps its focus on the bigger issues.
Would such a plan fly in these times of divided government and polarized politics? Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, isn’t sure. “Certainly it’s an interesting concept,” Collins said – while warning that frosty relations between the White House and Congress could stop it in its tracks.
“What you’re really talking about is a grand bargain, and I don’t think we’re really ready there because I don’t think the trust is really there,” Collins said.
Nevertheless, Reed feels compelled to try, said Gardner, his partner in the effort.
“Tom’s a great leader,” Gardner said. “He’s somebody who isn’t going to just sit back and watch as a train wreck unfolds; he’s going to jump into the fray and fix it and provide leadership.”