3 D.C. lawmakers to watch as U.S. nears debt default
By Greg Hinz
Crain's Chicago Business
Want to know how and when the congressional war over the budget and federal debt is going to end?
While absolutely no one knows that yet — and being a sunny optimist, I assume it will end eventually — here are three key members of the Illinois congressional delegation to watch for some clues:
One is U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a conservative Democrat from Chicago's Southwest Side who's part of a rather small group of House members who occasionally switch sides, potentially holding the balance of power.
It didn't get much publicity, but Mr. Lipinski last week was one of 20 House members from both parties to appear at a news conference calling for the government to be fully reopened in exchange for repealing the tax on medical devices that's part of Obamacare. The move didn't go anywhere, and Mr. Lipinski's ability to influence many votes is questionable, but there's been a fair amount of chatter in Washington that when they finally start talking, the device tax will be toast.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Democrat has remained loyal to his party's leadership on the big votes. But keep an eye peeled.
Ditto for Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton, the only Illinois Republican to serve in House GOP leadership, as chief deputy whip.
He, too, has remained loyal to party leadership, as recently as yesterday verbalizing the argument that obstreperous Democrats just won't negotiate. Though Mr. Roskam is extremely ambitious, he's Speaker John Boehner's guy.
The point: If GOP unity is going to break, if Mr. Boehner agrees to put a "clean" spending and borrowing plan up to a vote, you'll see Mr. Roskam signal it, maybe a little early. Do give me a call when you're ready, congressman.
But the fellow most worth watching is Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican who represents Obama blue Illinois and who is capable of breaking toward the center on occasion.
Reports that Mr. Kirk is prepared to bolt from his party are exaggerated. Specifically, I'm told by a reliable source, he is not ready to vote for a proposal by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to send to the House a plan to lift the debt cap through the 2014 midterm elections without simultaneously imposing any spending cuts. If Mr. Reid can do so by holding his Democrats and independents and picking up votes from six Republicans, it would put enormous pressure on House Republicans to cave in.
However, I'm also told, Mr. Kirk does not want the federal government to default, and therefore is quite probably willing to back a more limited debt extension, something that President Barack Obama has suggested in the past couple of days. That could be something of the two- or three-month variety, keeping the government open while providing time for negotiations on spending, Obamacare and the like that Mr. Obama has said he is willing to participate in.
Of course, Mr. Boehner says he won't do that, that the cuts have to come first. But if 60 members of the Senate disagree and send the House a clean bill to prevent doomsday, the pressure really will build.
None of this is a prediction. No one knows for sure. But these Illinoisans are folks of uncommon interest right now.
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