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Congress / economy

The 5 Top Republicans Open to Shutting the Government to Get Their Way

Sen. Ted Cruz talks with Vice President Joe Biden at his mock swearing in.(Chet Susslin)

photo of Niraj Chokshi
January 7, 2013

The fiscal-cliff deal wasn’t great for Republican priorities, but some in the party say that a government shutdown could help them get their way.

In last week’s compromise, many Republicans were forced to agree to a tax hike on wealthy Americans--albeit at a threshold higher than President Obama preferred--and few of the spending cuts and entitlement reforms they have long been calling for. But several key GOP figures are explicitly or tacitly open to a government shutdown to achieve those goals.

Over the next few months, lawmakers will battle over three important issues: raising the nation’s debt limit; funding the government; and avoiding broad, automatic spending cuts--also known as sequestration. Failing to continue funding the government would lead to a shutdown, at least partially. And while choosing not to raise the debt limit wouldn’t quite represent a shutdown, some key Republicans still back the idea as leverage.

Here’s what they have to say:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, on Sunday's Meet the Press:
What’s important about the top Republican senator’s appearance on  NBC’s Meet the Press wasn’t what he said but what he wouldn’t say. After a back and forth with host David Gregory on whether he would rule using a shutdown as leverage, McConnell had only this to say: “As the leader of the Republicans, what I'm telling you is we elected the president to be president. It's time for him to step up to the plate and lead us in the direction of reducing our excessive spending.” In other words, he wouldn’t rule it out.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in a Jan. 4 op-ed in the Houston Chronicle:
“The coming deadlines will be the next flash points in our ongoing fight to bring fiscal sanity to Washington. It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well-being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy, and Spain. President Obama needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan to avoid it immediately.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in a Jan. 3 Dallas Morning News interview:
"He laughed, literally, at President Obama’s recent suggestion that there won’t be a debate over whether to raise the government’s debt limit and openly called it a good idea to force a partial federal shutdown to cut the flow of red ink. 'The federal government will hit its credit limit in roughly two months, and Obama argues that default to any degree is unthinkable, especially because it entails spending that Congress has already authorized.
“ 'I’m sure he would like not to discuss it,’ Cruz said. But he said a partial government shutdown would be useful, arguing that the one in 1995 set the table for ‘the greatest degree of fiscal responsibility we have seen from Congress in modern times.’ ”

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Jan. 2:

“We Republicans need to be willing to tolerate a temporary, partial government shutdown. We absolutely have to have this fight over the debt limit.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, on Sunday’s Meet the Press:
Although he said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last week that using the debt limit as leverage is a “dead loser,” Gingrich is open to using the other two fights. Here’s what he said on Sunday:

“[Republicans] have two vehicles. They have a continuing resolution, which is at the end of March, and they have the sequester bill.

"Now, these are legitimate government spending bills. The debt ceiling is different because it triggers all of these international financial problems and triggers the credit of the United States. They don't have to say, 'We're going to be wimps.' I've helped closed the government twice. It actually worked. Bill Clinton came in and said, 'The era of big government's over,' after two closings. Not before."

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