Sources: GOP weighs short-term debt limit hike

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republican leaders

are considering a short-term increase in the U.S. debt limit as a

possible way

to break out of the gridlock that threatens the nation with an

unprecedented default in as little as a week, officials said

Wednesday night.

There now is far less urgency on Capitol Hill about ending the government shutdown, which heads into its 10th day on Thursday.

It has caused inconvenience and financial concern for many individual Americans but appears not to threaten the widespread

economic damage a default might bring.

The officials declined to say what

conditions, if any, might be attached to legislation to raise the $16.7

trillion debt limit

for an undetermined period, perhaps a few weeks or months. The GOP

rank and file are expected to meet and discuss the issue

on Thursday, before a delegation led by Speaker John Boehner goes

to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama.

Obama has said he won't agree to sign a debt

limit increase if conditions are attached. Republicans are demanding as

yet-unspecified

concessions to reduce deficits or make changes in the nation's

three-year-old health care law.

At the same time, the House has voted to create a 20-member group of lawmakers from the House and Senate to negotiate over

those and other issues — a bill that made no mention of the debt limit.

The officials describing the developments late Wednesday spoke only on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized

to disclose details of private deliberations.

The disclosure came as Obama met at the White House in late afternoon for more than an hour with House Democrats. He told

them that while he would prefer legislation extending the Treasury's borrowing ability beyond the next election, he would

also sign a shorter-term bill.

In addition to leadership conversations, a group of House conservatives met privately during the day for what several officials

described as a wide-ranging discussion on the debt limit and the threat — or lack of it — posed by default.

No consensus was reached, but among those

who spoke was Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the 2012 GOP vice presidential

candidate who

is chairman of the House Budget Committee and a prominent deficit

hawk. In an op-ed article published during the day in The

Wall Street Journal, he wrote, "We need to pay our bills today-and

make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow. So let's negotiate

an agreement to make modest reforms to entitlement programs and

the tax code."

Raising the cost of Medicare for better-off

beneficiaries and making changes to the tax code are perennials in

budget negotiations,

and precisely the type of item Obama says he is willing to discuss

— but only after the government is open and the debt limit

raised.

The private conversations stood in contrast to political maneuvering that characterized the day at the Capitol.

Its approval ratings scraping bottom, Congress took no discernible steps to end the nine-day partial government shutdown or

to head off threatened default.

Instead, the House passed legislation that the Obama administration already had rendered unnecessary — on providing death

benefits to families of military forces who die — while Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi met face-to-face — and

promptly disagreed even about which side had requested the get-together.

Across the Capitol, the Senate marked time under 18th century rules, focusing its attention on a test vote — next weekend

— on a $1 trillion increase in the debt limit to avert a default.

"Enough is enough," said Barry Black, the Senate chaplain who has delivered a series of pointed sermonettes in recent days

as lawmakers careen from crisis to crisis.

Evidently not.

With Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on tap to testify before lawmakers on Thursday, officials said he was expected to reiterate

that Congress needed to raise the government's borrowing limit by Oct. 17 to be sure of preventing default.

Despite warnings from leaders of both

political parties that a financial default could plunge the economy into

recession,

cause interest rates to rise and home values to plummet, one

Republican lawmaker, Rep. Mo Brooks of Ala., said a default wouldn't

be the worst calamity to befall the country.

"Insolvency and bankruptcy" would be worse, he said, warning that that would be the result of yet another increase in the

debt limit without attaching measures to bring down the federal budget deficit.

The nation's largest manager of money market

mutual funds was taking no chances. It said it had been selling off

government

debt holdings over the past couple of weeks and no longer held any

that would come due around the time the nation could hit

its borrowing limit. Fidelity Investments expects Congress to take

the necessary steps to avoid default, but "we have to take

precautionary measures," said Nancy Prior, president of Fidelity's

Money Market Group

The partial shutdown ground on, although an Associated Press-GfK poll suggested the impact was anything but uniform. Only

17 percent of those polled said they or their households had experienced any impact, while 81 percent said they had not.

Who's fault? Some 62 percent said Republicans were mostly or entirely to blame for the partial shutdown, which began on Oct.

1, while 49 percent said as much for President Barack Obama.

There was widespread agreement on one point. The country is widely dissatisfied with elected lawmakers.

A new Gallup poll put approval for Congress

at 11 percent, a mere one in every nine adults. The AP-GfK survey made

it 5 percent

approval — and only 3 percent among independents, whose votes are

the main prize in next fall's midterm elections. Nationally,

a whopping 83 percent of adults disapprove of Congress' actions.

Inside the Capitol, neither private meetings nor public votes offered any hint of progress toward ending the latest gridlock.

Republicans are seeking negotiations on budget, health care and other issues as the price for reopening the government and

raising the debt limit. Obama and Democrats say no talks unless legislation is first passed.

The House voted 252-172 to reopen the Federal Aviation Administration. Democrats generally opposed the measure and the White

House issued a veto threat, saying the government should be reopened all at once, not on a piecemeal basis.

There was a brief moment of unity when the House voted 425-0 to let the Pentagon pay death benefits to the families of fallen

U.S. troops.

That was the topic that drew Black's

attention in his daily prayer at the opening of the Senate's session.

"When our federal

shutdown delays payments of death benefits to families of children

dying in faraway battlefields, it's time for our lawmakers

to say, 'Enough is enough," he said.

Controversy accompanied the subject.

Republicans said Congress had passed and

Obama had signed legislation last week to permit the payments, but the

Defense Department

said otherwise. As Republican leaders were pushing toward a vote

on the bill making it explicit, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

announced a charity would pick up the death benefit costs instead.

In a delicate minuet, Pentagon officials said they were not permitted to solicit the funds, but could accept an offer if one

were made unbidden. That eased the pressure on Senate Democrats and the White House, who have generally refused to support

measures to ease the impact of the partial shutdown without ending the disruption entirely.