Senate Republicans are locked in an internal debate about whether to filibuster a debt limit increase if it is not paired with the kind of tight limits on spending they are seeking.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has been making the case to his Conference to hold off on threatening a filibuster, which would set a 60-vote threshold for passage, arguing that Republicans could later find it strategically advantageous to allow a debt ceiling increase to pass with a simple majority of Democratic votes, according to several GOP sources with direct knowledge of the discussions.
One GOP aide said Republican leaders had discussed allowing a debt limit increase to pass with just Democratic support as a way to make Democrats solely responsible for what likely will be a politically challenging vote and also to pressure Democrats to agree to “serious spending reforms.”
But several conservative GOP Senators with tea party ties on Wednesday were unwilling to rule out using the filibuster as a tool to get Democrats to agree to spending reforms such as statutory spending caps and a balanced-budget amendment that they are demanding as part of any increase in the debt ceiling.
“I am considering both options,” Sen. Jim DeMint said when asked whether he would filibuster a debt limit increase if it is not paired with the types of spending constrictions he is seeking.
The South Carolina Republican, who is viewed as a hero among tea party activists, said Senate Republicans have privately been discussing different options, including forgoing a filibuster, and described the need to raise the debt ceiling as a “failure of leadership” by President Barack Obama.
“I don’t think any Republican is going to vote to increase the debt ceiling without very serious spending caps,” DeMint said.
Another tea-party-backed Member, freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), said McConnell hadn’t asked him directly to hold off on threatening a filibuster on the debt limit and that it was too soon to say what his approach would be. But Paul didn’t rule out using the procedural tactic if he doesn’t get the vote on a balanced-budget amendment that he is pushing.
“I will vote to raise the debt ceiling if we pass a balanced-budget amendment,” Paul said. “We have to significantly change the way we’re doing things around here.”
McConnell’s office declined to comment, saying it would not discuss internal Conference strategy. But members of McConnell’s leadership team acknowledged that Republicans have begun to strategize privately about whether and how to employ a filibuster on the debt limit.
Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune said there had been “some informal conversations about this subject” but cautioned that there likely would be “a lot of evolution” in thinking as vote gets closer.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.