As Boehner debt ceiling vote approaches, Cravaack still on fence

WASHINGTON – Later this afternoon, the U.S. House will vote on Speaker John Boehner’s plan to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling while making deep corresponding cuts to the federal budget. Having squelched an apparent rebellion in his ranks, House Republicans seem increasingly confident that the bill will pass.

But freshman Republican lawmaker Rep. Chip Cravaack remains on the fence about Boehner’s plan. As he approached the House chamber on Thursday afternoon for a round of votes, Cravaack would not answer questions about his stance on Boehner’s bill, saying only, “I’m still assessing the situation.” The AP’s Martiga Lohn tweeted that Cravaack said on WCCO Radio that he’s “leaning toward no” on the Boehner plan.

Boehner’s bill would raise the debt ceiling by an initial $900 billion, in exchange for a similar amount of cuts.

A second debt ceiling increase of $1.6 trillion would be authorized next year after a special bipartisan, bicameral panel of lawmakers recommends an equivalent amount of cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The Treasury Department says it will run out of borrowing authority on Aug. 2, making a resolution of the debt ceiling issue of the utmost importance.

A group of conservative House Republicans belonging to the Republican Study Committee had opposed the Speaker’s proposal, arguing it didn’t make deep enough cuts. While Cravaack is not a member of the RSC, he has spoken often about his desire to see deep spending cuts to the federal budget.

Cravaack, who won a surprise victory last fall in a district that’s seen as a DFL stronghold, is in a tricky position. Should he defy the House leadership, he’s likely to get no help from the national Republican party to defend his seat. But if he votes for the bill, Cravaack will have handed his DFL opponent a potent campaign issue and may even open space for a Republican primary challenger.

As reported earlier, Minnesota’s other Republican members of Congress are divided on the bill. Rep. John Kline, who is close to Boehner, supports the Speaker’s bill. Rep. Michele Bachmann remains opposed to the bill, arguing that the debt ceiling should never be raised.

Like Cravaack, Rep. Erik Paulsen also remains on the fence. As Paulsen entered the House chamber today, he was seen in conversation with Rep. Paul Ryan, the influential chairman of the House Budget Committee who’s a strong proponent of Boehner’s bill.

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