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Voting to raise the debt limit could go a long way toward determining whether Republicans rise, fall or win re-election in 2012, just as a similar vote on the 2008 financial industry bailout did.
“This will be an election-defining vote,” Republican political consultant Ron Bonjean said.
Just talk to the Members who were there in 2008 when Congress was asked to authorize $700 billion in aide to the financial services industry.
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who initially voted “no” on the Troubled Asset Relief Program, drew primary challenges in 2010 but survived. He believes switching to “yes” on TARP and the debt ceiling vote are analogous because both require lawmakers to walk a fine line between listening to constituents and doing what he thinks is best for the nation.
“It would be hard to say ‘no’ because for the almost last three years I’ve had to answer that question over and over and over,” Conaway said. “It’s the classic: Do you do what your constituents are telling you to do, or what’s best for the country? And there’s a balance there.”
Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) said his vote in favor of the TARP bill cost him the chairmanship of the Republican Study Committee.
“I was in the running and arguably the favorite,” Campbell said. However, he said, “Because my position on that was not popular among some of the members of that group, I wrote a letter and removed my name from consideration.”
Other lawmakers believe the best thing they can do, politically and from a policy perspective, is to push for cuts as part of raising the debt limit.
“I think it’s important we fight for those things that we think are important and that we live to fight another day after the next election,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said.
But he said it’s more difficult for Senate Republicans because they are in the minority.
“The president has significant power and so do Senate Democrats,” Cornyn added.
Sen. John Boozman, who won his seat despite backing the TARP bill as a House Member, said insisting on cuts is one thing lawmakers can do to help guard against a primary challenge.
“Many of us feel that in order to vote for it, it needs to have significant cuts,” the Arkansas Republican said.
He added, “I think it is a very, very important vote. The whole country is watching this.”