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Under Romney or Obama, GOP Still Balks at Debt Limit Increase

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Even if Mitt Romney wins the presidency, conservatives will likely fight against raising the debt limit, which could put him in a tough position in the first days of his administration.

If GOP candidate Mitt Romney wins the White House, he is likely to face as much of a challenge as President Barack Obama did in persuading conservative Republicans to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a government default.

The Treasury Department reiterated earlier this week that the government will hit its current debt limit before the end of the year but can use the same “extraordinary measures” it employed in the protracted debt ceiling fight in 2011 to postpone potential default until early next year. With some House Republicans resisting a push to deal with the debt limit during the lame-duck session, the window for action will be small for whoever is inaugurated
Jan. 20.

Despite being the leader of his party, a President Romney could face just as much resistance from House conservatives as did Obama two summers ago.

“Frankly, I don’t see any scenario under which House Republicans agree to raise the debt ceiling in the lame duck, for the very reason that there haven’t been more cuts since the last time the debt ceiling was raised,” one top conservative Republican aide said. “After we’re out of a lame-duck and we’re in a Romney presidency, maybe tempers cool a little bit, but I think you still see a similar dynamic: Where are the cuts?”

And there still appear to be plenty of GOP members who may be willing to risk default to secure large cuts in government spending. 

“There were enough who didn’t believe we’d default last time. They won’t believe it this time,” the aide added.

Even if Romney champions the spending cuts conservatives are likely to propose, he could hit a wall with Senate Democrats who are likely to either keep their majority in that chamber or retain enough seats to filibuster any GOP plans. That could put Romney in the difficult situation of needing to avoid a default that could be catastrophic to the world economy without the political support from his own party to do it.

To date, the debt ceiling has been the least-talked-about piece of the fiscal cliff — a series of budgetary events set to affect the government at the beginning of 2013. They include the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and the $1.2 trillion mandatory, across-the-board cuts included in the first debt limit deal.

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