House Republicans are heading into a showdown with Obama over the debt ceiling, convinced that they have the upper hand politically and will be able to force the president to capitulate.
The president vows he won’t negotiate with Republicans over the issue at all. But, one GOP aide contends, “He thinks he’s in a happy place right now, but it’s going to quickly turn into a bad place.”
David Winston, a pollster for House Republicans, explained that Obama’s position is as dangerous to him as shutting the government down is to the GOP.
“When the president stands up and says ‘I will not negotiate,’ that’s not particularly tenable either. . . . People look at the debt ceiling as, ‘If we’re that broke, why are we asking to be able to put more money on the credit card?’” he told me.
Senior GOP lawmakers are banking on receiving modest support for the debt-ceiling bill from vulnerable Democrats, which will help put the heat on Obama. That will combine with the well-known concerns that many Democrats have about the disastrous Obamacare roll-out. (Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia came out in favor of delaying the individual mandate Wednesday morning.)
“The best thing we can do to turn up the heat on the president — and Senate Democrats — is to pass a House bill that couples the debt limit with popular spending cuts and reforms to get our economy going again and create jobs,” said Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman.
But Democrats are certainly talking a big game. In a number of interviews with senior lawmakers and key aides on the left side of the aisle, they too said they think their adversaries will cave.
President Obama reiterated today that he refuses to negotiate over the debt ceiling, ripping the GOP at a campaign-style rally for trying to “blackmail” him. One of his top aides said on CNN that he won’t negotiate with “people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” and the president’s top pollster gave an interview saying Republicans are “deluding” themselves in thinking their tactic will work.
House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer, taking questions while walking down a Capitol staircase, stopped to deliver the point as he grew visibly angry.
“They have a responsibility to their country,” Hoyer told me, wagging his finger. “They have a responsibility to their constituents and their children. They are damaging the country and the public ought to make them pay a price,” he added.
At a meeting last night with House Democrats, top White House aide Rob Nabors assured Democrats that the president will refuse to budge.
“Rob Nabors underscored it. And [White House chief of staff] Dennis [McDonough] has supported that. The position of the White House is they will not negotiate over the debt ceiling. I don’t think they should, and I hope they won’t,” Representative Jim Moran, a senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, tells me.
“There are more than 100 million people who would lose some form of benefit on Day One if the government can’t pay its bills, and of course it would cause chaos internationally in the financial markets,” Moran says.
“They can’t do that. And if they do, I think there will be repercussions. If we were Machiavellian we would be hoping they would be that crazy,” he adds.