Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who has made a reputation for giving leaders of his own party heartburn with his uncompromising conservatism, isn’t ruling out stretching the debate on the debt ceiling beyond the August 2 default deadline in order to get a deal more to his liking.
“I think it’s better to take it past August 2 and wait for something that solves the problem,” DeMint said in an interview with National Journal. “I think the Democrats and the president will start talking to us about something real if they think we’re going past August 2.”
The comments from the tea party favorite illustrate just how deep into the danger zone the nation has gone. Even if a deal is reached, Senate rules make it possible for a single individual to delay a vote by as much as 60 hours. That means a bill will have to be brought to the floor well ahead of the Tuesday deadline to guarantee passage in time to avoid default.
DeMint also criticized the two main plans before the House and Senate on Fox & Friends on Wednesday, saying that only the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act, which was defeated last week, solves the nation's debt problem and "puts the country on a path towards a balanced budget." The other plans "just kick the can down the road," he said.
It’s a measure of the uncharted territory Congress has now entered that even DeMint can’t quite believe congressional leaders will give him a chance to test his theory.
“I think they’re going to have the votes. So what I think at this point might not be relevant,” he said Monday evening. But even as DeMint was making his comments, circumstances were aligning to give him more clout: Boehner’s acknowledgment that the savings in his proposed debt-ceiling deal came up short has delayed the House vote until Thursday.
Faced with the prospect of default or accepting a proposal that they feel offers only “nominal” cuts, conservatives are “trying to weigh the consequences of which is worse,” DeMint said. But he seems to have made up his own mind, arguing that missing the deadline will not have nearly the apocalyptic consequences that President Obama is predicting.
“To go with some short-term deal that doesn’t solve the problem,” he said, “I frankly think that is worse than going past August 2.”
The only consequence of doing so, he said, would be “delaying some payments to contractors.” The administration will have enough money and authority to protect the nation’s credit and it’s senior citizens, he said.
“We’re not going to default on our bonds – the administration has already said that. We’re going to pay the interest on our notes and we’re going to pay Social Security and Medicare unless the president chooses not to.”
Though he acknowledged there there will be some disruption in government payments, DeMint said, “I frankly think that is less of a problem than showing the world there is no political will to deal with our debt.”
Sara Sorcher contributed.