Why Are Republicans Backing Off the Debt Ceiling? They Could Lose the House.

A government shutdown probably won’t shake Republicans from their House majority. But a debt-limit crisis might.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) (R) and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) (L) answer questions from reporters November 3, 2010 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Oct. 10, 2013, 5:32 a.m.

In a nor­mal polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment, the GOP’s grip on the House is ef­fect­ively un­break­able. Thanks to a con­gres­sion­al map dis­pro­por­tion­ately tilted in its fa­vor, the party holds only 17 dis­tricts that Pres­id­ent Obama won last year. In fact, Re­pub­lic­ans were strongly po­si­tioned to add to their 17-seat ma­jor­ity dur­ing next year’s midterms: The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port lists nine Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bents who rep­res­ent toss-up dis­tricts. Re­pub­lic­ans have only two. But fail­ing to raise the debt lim­it, a scen­ario fin­an­cial ex­perts warn will cause a de­fault on the coun­try’s debts and world­wide eco­nom­ic pan­ic, would make 2014 any­thing but a nor­mal polit­ic­al year. And even as House Re­pub­lic­ans con­tem­plate a six-week debt-lim­it ex­ten­sion, both sides re­main far apart on a long-term deal, mean­ing the threat of de­fault is un­likely to abate any time soon.

Few Demo­crats or Re­pub­lic­ans be­lieve the gov­ern­ment shut­down will hand Demo­crats con­trol of the House, but a de­fault is dif­fer­ent. GOP op­er­at­ives warn it’s the kind of polit­ics-chan­ging event that would threaten even the most hardened of ma­jor­it­ies. “Any party who thinks their ma­jor­ity is bul­let­proof is bound to find out that is not the case,” said one GOP con­sult­ant with ties to the busi­ness com­munity, who was gran­ted an­onym­ity to speak can­didly.

The risk to Re­pub­lic­ans hinges on two even­tu­al­it­ies: The re­per­cus­sions of a debt-lim­it crisis are severe, and Re­pub­lic­ans re­ceive most of the blame. On the former, there’s wide­spread agree­ment: Al­low­ing the United States to de­fault on its ob­lig­a­tions would be cata­stroph­ic. The con­sequences would be far more dis­astrous than a gov­ern­ment shut­down, which, while dam­aging, doesn’t threaten to send in­terest rates skyrock­et­ing or 401(k) plans plum­met­ing. “In the midst of this fisc­al chal­lenge, the on­go­ing polit­ic­al un­cer­tainty over the budget and the debt ceil­ing does not help,” said Christine Lagarde, head of the In­ter­na­tion­al Mon­et­ary Fund. “The gov­ern­ment shut­down is bad enough, but fail­ure to raise the debt ceil­ing would be far worse, and could very ser­i­ously dam­age not only the U.S. eco­nomy, but the en­tire glob­al eco­nomy.”

Wheth­er Re­pub­lic­ans would re­ceive the bulk of the blame is not cer­tain, of course, but it looks like a good bet. A spate of re­cent polls about the shut­down sug­gest that not only do more people blame the GOP than the Demo­crats for gov­ern­ment dys­func­tion, they’re also grow­ing in­creas­ingly frus­trated with the party. The pub­lic’s ap­prov­al of Obama’s role in the shut­down stan­doff has ac­tu­ally ris­en, from 41 per­cent to 45 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to one ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post sur­vey taken in late Septem­ber and an­oth­er one in early Oc­to­ber. Mean­while, in the Oc­to­ber poll, 70 per­cent of adults said they dis­ap­prove of con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans’ con­duct dur­ing the ne­go­ti­ations, in­clud­ing 51 per­cent who said they strongly dis­ap­prove. That’s a 7-point jump from the pre­vi­ous sur­vey. Sim­il­arly, a Gal­lup Poll re­leased Wed­nes­day showed the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s ap­prov­al rat­ing sink­ing to a re­cord low of 28 per­cent, down from 38 per­cent in Septem­ber.

The polit­ics of the shut­down aren’t a per­fect match for the debt ceil­ing’s — for one thing, polls show most Amer­ic­ans op­pose the kind of “clean” debt-lim­it in­crease Demo­crats have de­man­ded. But Re­pub­lic­ans know the pub­lic has blamed them for these fights be­fore, and if the ceil­ing is breached, party lead­ers are bra­cing for more back­lash. As one Re­pub­lic­an strategist said, it’s the “light­er flu­id” that could set off a polit­ic­al in­ferno next year. “If we’re still talk­ing about this in Janu­ary and Feb­ru­ary “¦ then I will be­lieve this was the kind of cata­stroph­ic event that star­ted the down­ward spir­al,” the in­sider said.

Not all Re­pub­lic­ans share that fear. Some ar­gue that if de­fault oc­curs, the fal­lout will be just as bad or worse for con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats and Obama. The pres­id­ent is in charge, and he has yet to avert a crisis. People blamed the Great De­pres­sion on Her­bert Hoover, didn’t they? “It would have massive re­per­cus­sions in both party’s elec­tions, but I also think we’ve got to get back to un­der­stand­ing that the Re­pub­lic­an ar­gu­ment is, “˜Obama won’t ne­go­ti­ate,’ “ said Guy Har­ris­on, a former ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee. “I don’t think that’s a good place for him to be.”

A single event, even one as con­sequen­tial as de­fault­ing on the debt, is nev­er guar­an­teed to make or break a ma­jor­ity more than a year be­fore an elec­tion. But hold­ing onto the House in 2014 shouldn’t be the GOP’s only con­cern. A de­fault could thwart the party from win­ning a Sen­ate ma­jor­ity, and House Demo­crats could still make sig­ni­fic­ant, if not ma­jor­ity-mak­ing, gains. That alone would be note­worthy be­cause midterms his­tor­ic­ally fa­vor the party that doesn’t con­trol the White House, and a strong 2014 show­ing would po­s­i­tion the Demo­crats to re­take the cham­ber dur­ing the 2016 races.But the big­ger, long-term prob­lem is the ef­fect the dual crises of a shut­down and de­fault would have on the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s im­age, which only nine months ago al­most every­one in the GOP agreed needed a ma­jor makeover. The twin dis­asters would re­in­force the pub­lic’s worst per­cep­tions of the party: It’s ex­trem­ist, ob­struc­tion­ist, and in­cap­able of gov­ern­ing. “What are the Re­pub­lic­ans’ strengths go­ing to be?” asked the GOP op­er­at­ive with ties to the busi­ness com­munity. “Per­cep­tion is, Re­pub­lic­ans un­der­stand the free mar­ket, so if we take a hit on the debt ceil­ing, that ob­vi­ously un­der­cuts that nar­rat­ive.”

Los­ing the House ma­jor­ity is bad enough. But an­oth­er White House de­feat in 2016 is a night­mare no Re­pub­lic­an wants to face.

What We're Following See More »
STAYING RELEVANT TIL 2020?
Rubio May Run for Reelection After All
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
SOCIAL ISSUES ROIL CONGRESS AGAIN
LGBT Amendment Sinks Energy and Water Approps
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

The House voted down the otherwise uncontroversial Energy and Water appropriations bill Thursday after Democrats succeeded in attaching an amendment affirming LGBT job discrimination protections for military contractors. More than 40 Republicans supported the amendment, but when it came to vote on the bill, 130 Republicans joined all but six Democrats to sink the bill. Speaker Paul Ryan said Democrats voting against the bill after securing the amendment shows their intention was to scuttle the process. Democrats, however, blamed other so-called poison-pill amendments for their votes against the bill. Nonetheless, Ryan said he intends to continue the appropriations process.

AKNOWLEDGING THE INEVITABLE
UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Source:
SCREENING DELAYS
70,000 Have Missed American Airlines Flights This Year
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Airport screening delays have caused more than 70,000 American Airlines customers and 40,000 checked bags to miss their flights this year, an executive for the airline told a U.S. congressional subcommittee on Thursday. A shortage of staff and a surge in air travelers have created a nightmare scenario for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), with airport wait times in places like Chicago stretching beyond two hours."

Source:
AP KEEPING COUNT
Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Source:
×