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Debt Limit Battle Begins Now

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But Republicans, who have successfully forced Democrats into a fight on their turf of fiscal conservatism, weren’t buying Democrats’ insistence.

Cantor said whether the debt limit needs to be raised is not the question for the bulk of Republicans.

“Most of my Members would say, ‘Look, the American people are expected to pay their bills, and the federal government is expected to pay its bills,’” he said. But “we are in such a fiscal mess. America is broke, and we’ve got to demonstrate some leadership here.”

Cantor and Boehner, who are expected to lead the GOP charge on the debt limit, already appear to have succeeded in shifting the debate away from whether GOP infighting would sink a debt limit vote and onto what kind of spending cuts, if any, should be attached to the final deal.

Senate Republicans see the debt limit increase as a golden opportunity to force Democrats up for re-election next year to cast tough votes, particularly on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and a separate spending cap proposal from Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said Democrats would continue to work with Republicans on responsible ways to cut spending while protecting the economy. But he warned the GOP against more brinkmanship.

“If we have learned anything from the budget negotiations, it’s that the American people didn’t like the GOP’s threats to shut down the government and they won’t take too kindly to threats of putting America into default, which would have a devastating effect on the global economy,” he said.

But Reid also will feel pressure from within his own party, particularly Budget Chairman Kent Conrad. The North Dakota Democrat has already said he will support only short-term increases in the debt limit to keep up the pressure  to reach a broader deficit-cutting deal.

Conrad is part of the “gang of six” — three Republicans and three Democrats — trying to hash out a compromise to slash $4 trillion from deficits over the next decade with a combination of tax reform, entitlement cuts and discretionary spending caps.

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