House Republicans head into their Tuesday conference meeting divided over whether their leaders should attempt to keep the question of reopening the government and raising the debt limit separate.
While next week's deadline to increase the debt ceiling would seem to force the two issues together, many Republicans say they fail to see how Republicans gain greater negotiating leverage by lumping the two issues together — and that could mean the government shutdown could stretch past the debt limit deadline of Oct. 17, regardless of whether Congress resolves the debt issue.
Others say the timeline has forced the House Republicans hand on both.
"Time has collided them," said one GOP lawmaker who spoke on background.
"Well, the one is right on top of the other," said another GOP lawmaker who spoke under the same conditions.
But if Republicans are going to give in on the debt limit, even for a short while, a number of GOP lawmakers said they would prefer to keep the issues separate.
GOP leadership has said repeatedly that Republicans have greater leverage on the debt ceiling. It was one of their arguments — behind closed doors — for not conflating the Obamacare fight with the continuing resolution. But now that the government has been shut down and the debt ceiling is near, some Republicans say, on background, it makes sense to keep the fight going on the continuing resolution but not the debt ceiling.
Two GOP lawmakers Monday independently brought up a piece from conservative columnist Erick Erickson that seemed to give that very advice.
Others say Republicans should fight Obamacare on both.
Many Republicans feel they are winning the public relations battle on the government shutdown, and they see no need to give in to Democrats.
"Democrats have way overplayed their hand," said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., who appeared to summarize a common thought within the GOP conference.
Republicans seem to think the "no negotiations" position from Democrats and the White House weakens Democrats in the eyes of the American public. It's an untenable position, they say. And as long as Democrats are seemingly unwilling to negotiate, many Republicans, who once characterized compromise as capitulation, think their leaders shouldn't give in either.
"The CR is done. It's over with," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga. "To me, we're into the debt ceiling fight now. We stood our ground on the CR. Evidently they're not going to do it. So they want to keep the government shutdown, so we'll talk about the debt ceiling."
For many Republicans, the shutdown and the debt limit have nothing to do with politics. And according to one senior GOP lawmaker, that's precisely the miscalculation from the White House and the Senate that could lead to a debt default.
“The White House and the Senate need to figure they’re playing with fire," the lawmaker said.