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 »
“CLINTON MUST BECOME THE NEXT PRESIDENT”
Bernie Sanders Seeks to Unite the Party
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Instead of his usual stump speech, Bernie Sanders tonight threw his support behind Hillary Clinton, providing a clear contrast between Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump on the many issues he used to discuss in his campaign stump speeches. Sanders spoke glowingly about the presumptive Democratic nominee, lauding her work as first lady and as a strong advocate for women and the poor. “We need leadership in this country which will improve the lives of working families, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor,” he said. “Hillary Clinton will make a great president, and I am proud to stand with her tonight."

“MUST NEVER BE PRESIDENT”
Elizabeth Warren Goes After Donald Trump
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In a stark contrast from Michelle Obama's uplifting speech, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke about the rigged system plaguing Americans before launching into a full-throated rebuke of GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump is "a man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone," she claimed, before saying he "must never be president of the United States." She called him divisive and selfish, and said the American people won't accept his "hate-filled America." In addition to Trump, Warren went after the Republican Party as a whole. "To Republicans in Congress who said no, this November the American people are coming for you," she said.

FLOTUS OFFERS STRONG ENDORSEMENT OF CLINTON
Michelle Obama: “I Trust” Hillary Clinton
10 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"In this election, and every election, it's about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives," Michelle Obama said. "There is only one person who I trust with that responsibility … and that is our friend Hillary Clinton." In a personal and emotional speech, Michelle Obama spoke about the effect that angry oppositional rhetoric had on her children and how she chose to raise them. "When they go low, we go high," Obama said she told her children about dealing with bullies. Obama stayed mostly positive, but still offered a firm rebuke of Donald Trump, despite never once uttering his name. "The issues a president faces cannot be boiled down to 140 characters," she said.

SANDERS BACKER CONFRONTS STUBBORN SANDERS SUPPORTERS
Sarah Silverman to Bernie or Bust: “You’re Being Ridiculous”
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Many Bernie Sanders delegates have spent much of the first day of the Democratic National Convention resisting unity, booing at mentions of Hillary Clinton and often chanting "Bernie! Bernie!" Well, one of the most outspoken Bernie Sanders supporters just told them to take a seat. "To the Bernie-or-bust people: You're being ridiculous," said comedian Sarah Silverman in a brief appearance at the Convention, minutes after saying that she would proudly support Hillary Clinton for president.

‘INEXCUSABLE REMARKS’
DNC Formally Apologizes to Bernie Sanders
15 hours ago
THE LATEST

The Democratic National Committee issued a formal apology to Bernie Sanders today, after leaked emails showed staffers trying to sabotage his presidential bid. "On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email," DNC officials said in the statement. "These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not—and will not—tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates."

Source:
×