Republican leaders, however, though supportive of “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” do not appear to have the same appetite for an early-August clash. Obama met with House GOP leaders Wednesday night, reportedly to consider passing a short-term debt-limit extension as details of a debt-reduction agreement are brokered. “I’m not going to give up hope on ‘Cut, Cap, and Balance,’ but I do think it’s responsible for us to look at what Plan B would look like,” Boehner said at a press conference earlier this week. “There are a lot of options available to us.”
Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.), a member of the GOP brass who is close to House conservatives, tells NRO that any short-term extension would not be acceptable. “Our path ahead remains ‘Cut, Cap, and Balance.’ That is our short-term, mid-term, and long-term solution,” he says. “There are many who believe that the Senate cannot act that quickly, now that the ball is in their court, and are looking to a potential short-term plug. At this point, that is a nonstarter for us in the House.”
Freshman representative Bill Flores (R., Texas) agrees. He is opposed to a short-term extension unless a balanced-budget amendment is assuredly in the works. “If I had to choose between having some sort of calamity on August 2, but I felt that buying a few weeks of time was going to get the right deal done, I’d be willing to look at that,” he says. “We need to take advantage of this situation and make fundamental changes to the federal government,” he says.
Indeed, in the House, the willingness to take the debate past August 2 runs deep, and is not limited to backbench freshmen. Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, dismisses the deadline as “artificial” and “created by the president for political drama.” Republicans have already done their jobs, Issa says, and now President Obama has two options: He can sign a short-term increase to the debt ceiling through the end of the fiscal year (September 30), or he can prioritize federal spending to avoid default.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.), a leading presidential contender, has long insisted that she wouldn’t vote for a debt-ceiling increase under any circumstances. She has also pushed back against warnings of an imminent default. In recent days, while she has softened her stance slightly — saying she’d support a debt increase if the new health-care law were repealed in its entirety — Bachmann was one of nine Republicans to vote against “Cut, Cap, and Balance” because it allows for a $2.4 trillion debt increase if a balanced-budget amendment is passed by both chambers.
Conservative hardliners are being spurred on by dozens of outside groups. Both the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, which were instrumental in the push for “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” have gone so far as to announce that they would publicly score whether Republicans signed Walsh’s letter.“There’s really nothing to talk about until the president puts out a plan,” says Michael A. Needham, CEO of Heritage Action. “If he doesn’t want to do that, he should be prepared to live under a balanced budget as of August 2.”
On Fox Business yesterday, Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks said that “the Republicans’ ability to actually negotiate real spending cuts really comes into play on August 3, the day after the so-called end of the world happens.” Still, there are some who strike a more tempered tone. Rep. James Lankford (R., Okla.), who voted for the Boehner-Obama spending deal but is currently one of 37 members who has signed a pledge promising not to raise the debt ceiling absent the full enactment of “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” tells NRO that House Republicans have no plans to barrel past the August 2 deadline. “There’s not any enthusiasm to just ignore that date,” he says. “We understand that date is significant, and we’ve got to be able to pay our bills.”
But as August 2 approaches, DeMint, Jordan, and their fellow conservatives aren’t daunted. “I can tell you this, the tide of history is moving here,” Walsh says. “I don’t think our leadership can stop it, I don’t think Harry Reid can, and I know Barack Obama can’t.”
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review. Andrew Stiles is a 2011 Franklin fellow.