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Hensarling acknowledged that the need for a debt-limit hike could be one opportunity to put the brakes on spending. Before supporting an increase, Hensarling said he “would have to see a path to fiscal sustainability. Are we putting the federal budget on a glide path where it doesn’t exceed the family budget’s level ... an eventual path to balance?”
House and Senate GOP aides acknowledged the debt-limit issue will be a tricky one for them to navigate come next year, but they predicted they will be able to turn their own party’s turmoil into a partisan fight with the White House.
“It will probably fall into a spending fight, which probably plays better for us than the Democrats,” one senior Senate Republican aide said.
But Republicans also acknowledged they have no idea at this point whether their tea party brethren — some of whom have been itching for a government shutdown — can be “bought” with promises of future spending cuts.
Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said the looming debt limit shows the need to cut spending now.
“This is another example of why we should immediately enact the ‘Pledge to America,’” Steel said, referring to the new House GOP agenda. “Reducing spending to pre-bailout, pre-‘stimulus’ levels will save $100 billion in the first year alone.”
A senior House Democratic aide predicted trouble for GOP leaders on debt and spending issues.
“In my view, the chickens will come home to roost, they will reap what they’ve sown, pick your metaphor,” the aide said. “Boehner and Cantor are cultivating this crazy fringe in their party and they are going to have to deal with it, or not be able to — the latter being the more likely scenario as Boehner doesn’t even control his conference now.”
Another Democratic aide likened the looming debt-limit vote to the TARP Wall Street bailout vote, which House Republican leaders backed only to face a revolt from their rank and file on the House floor.
Paul Van de Water, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the debt-limit hike and a fight over an omnibus spending bill both present the potential for government shutdowns early next year.
If Democrats are unable to pass an omnibus spending bill or a yearlong continuing resolution during the lame-duck session to keep the government running, any short-term solution pushing decisions on this year’s spending to the next Congress would put the shutdown issue front-and-center at the start of the year.
Hensarling said Republicans have no desire for a government shutdown and added that it would be Obama’s fault if he vetoed bills cutting spending.
Hensarling has also proposed an “automatic CR” that would keep the government running in the event Congress fails to pass its spending bills to avoid government shutdowns.
“I don’t think either side should be exploiting this,” he said of the shutdown threat.