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Republicans Don’t Fear the Debt Limit



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The White House has established October 17 as the deadline by which Congress must increase the federal debt limit. President Obama has also refused to negotiate with Republicans, demanding that Congress agree to a “clean” debt-limit hike without any spending reforms attached, something House speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) has ruled out, even while acknowledging the need to avoid a default on the national debt. 

Meanwhile, a number of Republican lawmakers are shrugging off the October 17 deadline, as well as the possibility of default:

Not only do some conservatives say Oct. 17 is an artificial deadline—”Nobody thinks we’re going to default on Oct. 17th,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.—but they also are attempting to narrowly define what would constitute default.

In interviews with more than a dozen GOP lawmakers, the Republicans rejected the notion that Washington could default on its debt unless a borrowing increase is approved before Oct. 17. For the United States to actually default, these Republicans argue, the Treasury Department would have to stop paying interest on its debts—something GOP lawmakers claim is inconceivable.

“There’s always revenue coming into the Treasury, certainly enough revenue to pay interest,” said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. “Democrats have a different definition of ‘default’ than what we understand it to be. What I hear from them is, ‘If you’re not paying everything on time that’s a default.’ And that’s not the traditionally understood definition.”

Freshman congressman Ted Yoho (R., Fla.) raised eyebrows recently by suggesting that not raising the debt limit “would bring stability to the world markets.”

The House has already passed legislation, known as the Full Faith and Credit Act, that would direct the U.S Treasury Department to prioritze payments on the national debt in order to avoid default. However, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has declined to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote. The White House has dismissed the measure as “simply default by another name,” insisting that failing to raise the debt limit would have a catastrophic impact on the economy no matter what payments are prioritized.

According to a Pew survey published on Monday, Americans are fairly divided about the debt limit — 47 percent said that raising it by the deadline was ”absolutely essential to avoid a crisis,” compared to 37 percent who said Congress could miss the deadline “without major problems,” and 15 percent who said they didn’t know. 

Among Republicans, however, a clear majority (54 percent) said missing the deadline to raise the debt ceiling wouldn’t be a big deal, compared to 36 percent who said it would result in an economic crisis. That margin was even greater among individiuals who identified as tea-party members — 64 percent to 23 percent. These are the constituents of House Republicans, many of which will be hard pressed to support a debt-limit increase of any kind unless it includes meaningful policy concessions that the White House seems unwilling to offer. 

 



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