WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday said Republicans are weighing the option of a short-term debt limit extension, but that House GOP leaders are using their annual retreat to highlight the "realities of divided government" and set expectations among members of their caucus as a number of fiscal deadlines approach.
"Our goal is to make sure our members understand all the deadlines that are coming, all the consequences of those deadlines that are coming, in order so that we can make a better decision about how to move and how to proceed," Ryan told reporters at the retreat. "While we aspire to give the country a very specific and clear vision about what we think is the right way to go on the major big issues of the time, we have to at the same time recognize the divided government moment we have and the fiscal deadlines that are approaching [and] what those involve."
Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee, offered a glimpse of what was discussed during the morning session of the retreat, which began with a look ahead at the next 90 days. He and Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp (R-Mich.) delivered a presentation on the "cash flow mechanics" of the debt limit, as well as the expiration of the continuing resolution to fund the government and the impending sequester, a series of automatic cuts to defense spending and domestic programs set to take effect in March.
The goal, according to Ryan, was to "facilitate a conversation" around what the party hopes to achieve, but to also emphasize what the series of events means for the economy.
"We think that the worst thing for the economy is for this Congress and this administration to do nothing to get our debt and deficits under control," Ryan said. "We think the worst thing for the economy is to move past these events that are occurring with no progress made on the debt and the deficit."
"We know we have a debt crisis coming," he continued. "This is not an if question, it's a when question."
The former Republican vice presidential nominee noted the party's position as the "majority in the House but the minority in power in Washington," a sign that GOP leaders were seeking to manage expectations among incoming freshmen lawmakers for the battles ahead.
Ryan also said Republicans were "discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt limit extension, so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and the White House involved in discussions in March." Although he declined to discuss specifics regarding what a short-term extension would entail, or whether one would include spending cuts, Ryan did maintain that the party is committed to extracting spending reductions from President Barack Obama.
"All options are on the table as far as we’re concerned,” Ryan said.
Still, Ryan seemed to imply that behind closed doors, House GOP leadership was engaged in an effort to lay out the consequences of a debt ceiling breach -- and explain why a hostage strategy would not be the best way forward. He said members were told it was important to focus on goals that are within the party's reach instead.
"I think what matters most is that people have a very clear view of what's coming, so that there are no surprises," Ryan said. "That means setting expectations accordingly, so that we move forward on a unified basis."
The president has insisted that he will not allow Republicans to use the nation's borrowing limit as leverage.
"They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the economy," Obama said in a press conference last week. "The full faith and credit of the United States economy is not a bargaining chip. And they better choose quickly because time is running short. The last time Republicans in Congress even flirted with this idea, our AAA credit rating was down for the first time in our history."
Other conservatives have showed signs of softening on the debt ceiling.
Republican aides in the House and Senate told The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin that the "the threat of bumping up against the debt ceiling is not realistic and hence not useful," prompting the GOP to explore other options.
"The jig is nearly up," Rubin writes.
And conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer warned Republicans to not "immolate" themselves by overreaching in the debt ceiling debate.
"Don’t force the issue when you don’t have the power," he writes. "Republicans should develop a list of such conditions — some symbolic, some substantive — in return for sequential, short-term raising of the debt ceiling. But the key is: Go small and simple. Forget about forcing tax reform or entitlement cuts or anything major. If Obama wants to recklessly expand government, well, as he says, he won the election."
Related on HuffPost:
The Deficit Has Grown Mostly Because Of The Recession
The deficit has ballooned not because of specific spending measures, but <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?s[id]=FYFSD" target="_hplink">because of the recession</a>. <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals" target="_hplink">The deficit more than doubled</a> between 2008 and 2009, as the economy was in free fall, since laid-off workers paid less in taxes and needed more benefits. The deficit then shrank in 2010 and 2011.
The Stimulus Cost Much Less Than Bush's Wars, Tax Cuts
Republicans frequently have blamed <a href="http://projects.nytimes.com/44th_president/stimulus" target="_hplink">the $787 billion stimulus</a> for the national debt, but, when all government spending is taken into account, the stimulus frankly wasn't that big. In contrast, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/29/cost-of-war-iraq-afghanistan_n_887084.html" target="_hplink">the U.S. will have spent nearly $4 trillion</a> on wars in the Middle East by the time those conflicts end, according to a recent report by Brown University. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/revisiting-the-cost-of-the-bush-tax-cuts/2011/05/09/AFxTFtbG_blog.html" target="_hplink">The Bush tax cuts have cost nearly $1.3 trillion</a> over 10 years.
The Deficit Grew Under George W. Bush
When George W. Bush took office, <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals" target="_hplink">the federal government was running a surplus</a> of $86 billion. When he left, that had turned into a $642 billion deficit.
The Deficit Is Shrinking
<a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals" target="_hplink">Last year's federal budget deficit</a> was 12 percent lower than in 2009, according to the Office of Management and Budget.<a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals" target="_hplink">The deficit is projected to shrink</a> even more over the next several years.
Investors Are Paying Us To Borrow Money
<a href="http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/interest-rates/Pages/TextView.aspx?data=realyield" target="_hplink">The interest rate on 10-year Treasury bonds</a> is <em>negative</em>, according to the Treasury Department. Investors are even paying us for 30-year Treasury bonds, when adjusted for inflation.
Investors Are Not Running Away
<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/niall-ferguson-has-been-wrong-on-economics-2012-8" target="_hplink">Conservative commentators</a> have been warning for years that investors will run away from Treasury bonds because of the national debt. So far it's not happening. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/treasury-yield-record-low_n_1555975.html" target="_hplink">Interest rates on Treasury bonds</a> continue to hover at historic lows.
Health Care Reform Reduces The Deficit
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/04/republican-platform-2012-factual-mistakes_n_1840795.html#slide=1461142" target="_hplink">Republicans have blasted the Affordable Care Act</a> as "budget-busting." But <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/04/republican-platform-2012-factual-mistakes_n_1840795.html#slide=1461142" target="_hplink">health care reform actually reduces the deficit</a>, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The U.S. Is Borrowing Less From China
<a href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/30/fear-of-china-syndrome/" target="_hplink">The U.S. government is borrowing much less from foreign countries</a> than before the recession, according to government data cited by Paul Krugman. That is because the U.S. private sector is financing our bigger deficits.
We Spend A Lot On Defense
<a href="http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1258" target="_hplink">Defense spending constituted 20 percent</a> of federal spending last year, or $718 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This adds up to <a href="https://twitter.com/AJInsight/statuses/241269134996959234" target="_hplink">41 percent of the world's defense spending</a>, according to Bloomberg TV anchor Adam Johnson. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/mitt-romney-military-budget_n_1687601.html" target="_hplink">Mitt Romney has vowed</a> to not cut defense spending if elected president.
We Spend A Lot On Health Care
<a href="http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1258" target="_hplink">Health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, constituted 21 percent</a> of federal spending last year. In contrast, education constituted 2 percent of federal spending. Meanwhile, <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/08/19/2956609/middle-aged-blues-over-paul-ryans.html" target="_hplink">Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have promised not to change Medicare</a> for Americans age 55 and older.
Republicans May Want Large Deficits For Now
<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/corporate-taxes-deficits-and-labor-vs-capital-during-reagans-first-term-2012-7" target="_hplink">The federal budget deficit ballooned</a> under Ronald Reagan, and that may be just the way Republicans like it. <a href="http://www.forbes.com/2010/05/06/tax-cuts-republicans-starve-the-beast-columnists-bruce-bartlett.html" target="_hplink">Some Republican thinkers</a> have proposed <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/opinion/22krugman.html" target="_hplink">"starving the beast"</a>: that is, cutting taxes in order to use larger deficits to justify spending cuts later. Since Republicans ultimately want lower taxes and a smaller government, what better way is there to cut spending than to make it look urgent and necessary?