Williamsburg, Virginia (CNN) – House Republican leaders are talking to rank and file GOP members about passing a short-term extension of the debt ceiling, perhaps one that just authorized the nation's borrowing authority for a couple of months.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, told reporters it was one option in a morning discussion with all House Republicans about legislative strategy for the first few months of the new Congress.
"We're 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," Ryan said.
President Barack Obama, however, has closed the door to negotiating over the debt ceiling, saying "America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up."
"They’re going to have to send me something that’s sensible. And we shouldn’t be doing this ... on a one to three-month timeframe," Obama said at a news conference on Monday. "Why would we do that? This is the United States of America. ... What, we can’t manage our affairs in such a way that we pay our bills and we provide some certainty in terms of how we pay our bills?"
The necessity of raising the debt ceiling comes shortly after the fiscal cliff, which found Republicans and Democrats at stalemate for weeks over averting tax increases and spending cuts which they had designed to trigger if they could not reach a deal.
"I’m not going to have a monthly or every-three-months conversation about whether or not we pay our bills," Obama said. "Because that in and of itself does severe damage. Even the threat of default hurts our economy. It’s hurting our economy as we speak. We shouldn’t be having that debate."
Republican Rep. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, said the idea came out of an ad hoc group led by Ryan, and House Speaker John Boehner signaled he supported the approach.
At one of the closed door sessions at a resort in Williamsburg, rank and file members viewed a slide show that highlighted how one of the last major deficit reduction packages – known as Gramm-Rudman – was preceded by a series of short term extensions in the debt ceiling.
Fleming said members will wait to see all the details, but said many conservatives backed it.
"I think we're all pretty much on board," Fleming said, and noted that impetus behind it was to keep the pressure on for reaching a broader deal to cut spending.
The strategy was a departure from recent discussions where Republicans pushed that any increase in the debt limit must include spending cuts that amounted to the same size of the increase. It's unclear what kind of spending cuts leaders might want to include.
Some conservatives are pressing GOP leaders to attach items to force the Democratic-led Senate to act. One option discussed was to require the Senate to pass a budget, another was to require that the Senate approve or simply vote on a Constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
Rep. Steve Scalise, who heads the group of fiscal conservatives in the House known as the Republican Study Committee, says he wants to include a condition to any increase in the nation's borrowing authority that the Senate pass a budget—something it hasn't done in four years. The Louisiana Republican said GOP members are suggesting the extension go through mid April.
"I think the debt limit is a symptom of the spending problem," Scalise told CNN, and added no longer term extension is warranted until there is a complete picture of what the spending priorities are.
Just weeks after Congress passed a deal to avert the fiscal cliff at the end of 2012, lawmakers are heading into a series of contentious debates over the debt ceiling, the automatic spending cuts about to kick in across government agencies (or "sequester") and legislation to avoid a possible government shutdown at the end of March.
Ryan said a main purpose of the House GOP retreat was to walk members through the "sequence" of all three things and the numbers involved for rank and file members, especially the freshmen who haven't been through a vote on major budget issues before.
The Wisconsin Republican wouldn't get into any specifics on what kind of cuts the GOP might propose to accompany a short term extension. But he stressed that ultimately both parties needed to come together on major deficit reduction package this year.
"We believe it that it would be wrong if we walk out of this spring with no achievement on debt reduction whatsoever, because that will hurt the country, that will hurt the economy and that's why we believe we have to have serious plan for tackling these things," Ryan said.
Fleming said he believed President Obama may be willing to support a short term increase in the debt limit so he could move onto other legislative priorities he wants to press, such as new restrictions on guns. But he noted there was "zero" discussion of the gun issue at the retreat, and the focus was narrowly on the immediate fiscal battles ahead.
Ryan didn't directly answer questions about whether there was a widespread willingness among a majority of House Republicans to default on the nation's obligations if they can't reach some kind of deal on the debt limit.
Asked if the GOP was willing to "shoot the hostage" as some conservatives have suggested – in negotiations with Democrats, Ryan said, “I don't want to use any metaphors such as that at all."
– CNN's Paul Courson contributed to this report.