I have assumed that a vote to increase the federal debt ceiling is inevitable, on the ground that there isn’t any practical alternative. That is what Republican Congressional leaders have been saying. The general assumption, which was expressed by Senator Tom Coburn this morning, is that the limit will be raised, but Republicans will be able to secure meaningful spending cuts as the condition of their cooperation.
On the morning news shows, however, both Chris Christie and Tim Pawlenty argued that House Republicans should block any increase in the debt limit–a course that in one recent poll was favored by 71 percent of respondents. Christie implied, however, that what he advocates is a bluff:
WALLACE: But you say “put up or shut up.” I mean, it’s one thing for you to close down the government of New Jersey and eat your pizza. It’s another thing for the country, for the U.S. government to default on its credit and to go into debt.
CHRISTIE: Yes, but because I was clear, I didn’t have to close the government, did I? And you know, this is about making the argument and trying to win the argument. And I think if you close down government, in some respects you may have lost the argument.
Now, you have to be ready to do what you need to do if you want to stand by your principles. What happened in New Jersey was we made our argument and the budget was passed two days early and we moved on with our next challenges.
WALLACE: Should the Republicans be prepared to let the country go into default?
CHRISTIE: The Republicans should be prepared to articulate their argument and win the argument, Chris. That’s what they should do. In New Jersey, listen, there have been times when I compromised on things that I wanted.
But I got more than what — more than less, so, you know, it’s all about reading the situation, but the only way you get there is to be absolutely crystal clear with what your position is.
But a bluff can’t work, can it, if the opponent knows you’re bluffing?
Tim Pawlenty, on the other hand, argued that refusing to increase the debt limit is a viable alternative that need not lead to a federal default:
WALLACE: Back in 2005, you allowed the government of Minnesota to shut down for nine days because of a disagreement with the Democratic legislature about taxes and spending. Should congressional Republicans take the same tough stance when it comes to raising the debt limit and federal spending?
PAWLENTY: Well, what I’ve learned, Chris, after eight years of doing in a very liberal place — I love my state, but it’s liberal in terms of spending and government — is you’ve got to draw some lines in the sands. …
And as to the federal government, they should not raise the debt ceiling. I believe they should pass legislation, allow them to sequence the spending as the revenues come in to make sure they don’t default, and then have the debate about what other spending can be reduced.
WALLACE: But you would say to the Republicans up in that building behind me do not raise the debt limit?
PAWLENTY: That’s right. And, in fact, to avoid the default, I would take it one step further, send the president a piece of legislation that authorizes the federal government to sequence the paying of its bills so that we don’t default on the debt obligation and then have the debate about how we reduce the other spending.
Pawlenty has great credibility as a fiscal conservative, and he is no irresponsible firebrand. So if he thinks the Republicans can hold the line on debt, avoid a default, and use the debt ceiling to compel, rather than bargain for, spending cuts, one wonders whether the Republican Congressional leadership is aiming too low.