Key Senate Republican wants major fiscal deal, debt ceiling raised until 2017

What would a McCarthy speakership look like?
What would a McCarthy speakership look like?

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Story highlights

  • Sen. John Cornyn wants Congress to raise the debt ceiling through the election
  • House Speaker John Boehner is retiring this month and could play a critical role in reaching a broad budget deal

Washington (CNN)The Senate's No. 2 Republican wants to extend the national borrowing limit through the 2016 elections, hoping to take full advantage of a political opening with House Speaker John Boehner's sudden decision to retire.

With the Treasury Department warning on Thursday that the debt ceiling will be reached by Nov. 5, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn is eager to see the White House and congressional leaders cut a major deal on a fiscal package that includes a long-term increase of the national borrowing limit.
    "I personally would like to see Speaker Boehner help clear the deck for the people who follow him and make that transition a little bit easier," Cornyn, a Texas Republican, told CNN.
    "I think it makes sense to do it until 2017," Cornyn said of a debt ceiling increase.
    Asked if he wanted to get the politically wrenching issue off the table, Cornyn said flatly: "Yeah."
    The call by the No. 2 Republican comes as talks this week began to intensify over a fiscal package aimed at staving off a major crisis in the coming months, when Congress must act to avoid a debt default, a government shutdown and the expiration of a slew of tax breaks.
    With Boehner retiring on Oct. 30, many Republicans hope that the Ohio Republican will be freer to cut a big-ticket fiscal deal, given that any compromise is bound to prompt a revolt from the right. Such a deal would be a rare bipartisan accord in Boehner's tenure as speaker, which has been marked by high-profile fiscal clashes with the White House that have paralyzed Washington.
    If the fiscal issues are not resolved before Boehner leaves office, it is widely viewed that his likely successor -- Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California -- will have an enormously difficult time corralling such a package though the deeply divided House.
    "I'd like to see as many issues resolved as possible -- whether it's the funding of government, or the extension of highway bills, or the resolution of the debt limit prior to John Boehner's departure or prior to Thanksgiving," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. "What I don't want to see is all of these issues left until December and the country thrown into chaos because of uncertainties about the government shutting down again, our inability to fund the debt, or the construction projects coming to a halt."
    Over the last two weeks, talks have picked up between the White House and congressional leaders, but they are nowhere close to finding consensus at this point, senators said. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, wanted to initially bar Democrats from his talks with President Barack Obama, sources said, but the White House declined.
    Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, both dispatched staff to the White House over the last two days to hash out a possible agreement. Staff for Boehner and McConnell were in attendance Wednesday.
    "The push that Leader Pelosi and I really are going to stress more than anything else is speed," Reid said. "We don't want to wait. We want to move on this."
    Whether he will be able to do that remains to be seen. Even with Boehner resigning, pushing through a debt ceiling increase is a toxic vote for most Republicans -- and it could reverberate along the 2016 campaign trail. Many Republicans want major concessions for raising the debt limit, and it's uncertain what the White House is prepared to offer.
    Cornyn, who is McConnell's chief deputy, said the White House won't get a "clean" debt ceiling increase, saying there needed to be some constraints on spending in order to cut a deal.
    "There's not going to be any clean debt ceiling increase," Cornyn said. "But obviously, there's going to be a big package, perhaps, of everything from tax extenders to appropriation bills and the like."
    Indeed, finding ways to pay for a fiscal package is always a main sticking point. The two sides need to first agree on overall spending levels, then cut a deal on what policy changes to make and also find out where to cut spending.
    Given that Republicans are demanding that spending on defense agencies increase, Reid said Thursday that any increases in spending must be spread evenly between domestic and national security programs. Democrats are calling for spending levels to increase beyond current budget caps, something Republicans have so far resisted.
    "That's painful work, but the pains going to be there no matter when we do it," Reid said of the cuts to offset spending increases.
    Asked if such a deal would be possible if McCarthy were speaker, Reid said: "You have to talk to the Wizard of Oz. Maybe they can tell you."