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Debt limit rise should be tied to budget cuts: Senator Cruz

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks to the Senate floor for a vote on a $1.1 trillion U.S. spending bill at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, J
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks to the Senate floor for a vote on a $1.1 trillion U.S. spending bill at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, J

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator Ted Cruz, the Tea Party firebrand who egged on Republicans in the House of Representatives during last year's government shutdown battle, said on Monday it would be "irresponsible" for Congress to grant President Barack Obama a debt limit increase without spending reforms.

Cruz, who spoke to reporters after remarks at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said he hoped the House would not "go down that road" of agreeing to an increase in the government's borrowing authority without demanding measures to rein in long-term deficits.

"President Obama is asking Congress to give him a blank check to allow him to keep maxing out the credit card without doing anything to fix the problem. I think that's irresponsible," Cruz said.

House Republicans were due to meet on Monday at 5:30 p.m. EST in the Capitol to hash out a plan for a debt limit bill, according to party aides. Among options under consideration were attaching a provision to repeal military pensions cut approved in December or another that would prevent a decline in payments to doctors under the Medicare healthcare program for the elderly.

Both options would increase deficits unless they are accompanied by offsetting spending cuts elsewhere. They would not represent the significant cuts to federal benefits programs requested by many Republicans to shrink the U.S. debt burden.

"We'll have to wait to see what the details are (of the House proposal) but in my view we should not raise the debt ceiling without significant structural reform to fix the problem to stop the out-of-control spending," Cruz added.

SHUTDOWN INFLUENCE

Cruz was a central figure in the government shutdown battle in fall 2013, with his campaign to deny funds to President Barack Obama's health insurance reform law.

His efforts, together with those of outside conservative groups, were highly influential in persuading House Republicans to vote to block government funding for the new fiscal year if it included money for the law.

The standoff launched a 16-day shutdown of many government agencies on October 1 and caused financial markets to fret over the debt limit, which needed an increase shortly thereafter. Since then, Congress has reached two minor budget deals and talk of brinkmanship has subsided.

Cruz did not say whether he would seek to use procedural tactics to try to block or delay Senate consideration of any debt limit hike that does not include spending reforms.

Obama and Democrats have insisted on a debt limit hike that is free of any conditions.

(Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Caren Bohan, Jim Loney and Amanda Kwan)

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