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Cornyn, Conservatives Say Partial Government Shutdown Possible in Debt Standoff

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Cornyn said Friday that Republicans frustrated with spending would take a tough line on the prospect of raising the debt limit.

Conservative GOP leaders in both chambers are brandishing the threat of a potential partial government shutdown to force deep spending cuts in a new round of negotiations on the debt limit and other major budget questions coming up in Congress.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas took on the leader Friday by saying that Republicans frustrated with spending would take a tough line on the prospect of raising the debt limit, a March 1 deadline for automatic spending cuts under the 2011 debt deal (PL 112-25) and the March 27 expiration of the continuing resolution (PL 112-175).

“It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain,” Cornyn wrote in a column published in the Houston Chronicle on Friday.

The president “needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan to avoid it immediately,” Cornyn wrote, adding he was concerned that President Barack Obama had “already signaled an unwillingness to negotiate over the debt ceiling.”

“This is unacceptable. The president should immediately put forward a plan that addresses these deadlines, and he should launch serious, transparent budget negotiations,” Cornyn said.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada dismissed the threatened shutdown, and nodded to his own background as an amateur boxer to swipe at the Republicans. “Cornyn better be careful,” Reid told reporters. “That’s stupid. He’s training for a fight he’s going to lose.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., added that “risking government shutdown, risking not raising the debt ceiling, is playing with fire.” Choosing to use the debt limit as political leverage over spending would make the GOP responsible for a default, he said, adding that “I would bet that they would not go forward with that.”

Cornyn’s call is being echoed by conservative leaders in both chambers, such as Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Republican Senate Steering Committee. And House Speaker John A. Boehner told Republicans at a closed-door meeting of GOP lawmakers Friday that he will continue to demand spending cuts greater than the amount needed to raise the debt ceiling, pivoting from an ugly tax episode to more friendly GOP territory.

“With the cliff behind us, the focus turns to spending,” Boehner said. He pointed to the results of a new GOP poll showing 72 percent of Americans agree the debt ceiling increase must be accompanied by spending cuts of a greater amount.

Ceiling Follows Cliff

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