House Republicans are preparing a proposal for a short-term increase in the debt ceiling, expected to last about six weeks. The move would allow talks between the House, Senate and Obama on a longer-term plan dealing with government spending and ObamaCare. The risk of triggering default when the debt ceiling is hit later this month would be put off until December. The partial government shutdown would continue.
The partial shutdown, itself, is gradually shrinking. About half the roughly 800,000 “non-essential” workers originally furloughed will be back on the job this week. The Defense Department recalled all its civilian workers, around 350,000, after a new interpretation of recent legislation to fund the military. Numerous other agencies, like CDC and FEMA, has recalled workers after agency lawyers expanded the definition of “public safety,” a key trigger to be deemed “essential.”
The Veteran Administration has said it is likely to recall all of its furloughed workers if, as expected, the Senate approves House-passed legislation to award back pay to furloughed workers. This actually makes some sense. If an agency or office knows its workers are going to be paid whether or not they work, it is probably better to at least have them do the work.
National Parks and other government offices will still be close, but with most furloughed federal workers back on the job, the political costs of the shutdown will be mitigated. The sad irony, of course, is that federal workers will among those few groups not impacted by the shutdown.
The House proposal to for a short-term increase in the debt ceiling is likely to be clean, i.e. contain no other provisions or policy riders. The onus will then be on the Senate to pass the short-term hike to avoid possible default later this month.
The emerging House plan is designed to keep the debate focused on ObamaCare. Republicans are still committed to defunding the program or delaying the individual mandate. They have concluded that taking the threat of default off the table, at least temporarily, they will be in a stronger position to win changes to ObamaCare.