Republicans Say Obama Underestimates Their Resolve as Debt Default Nears

If you thought Republicans weren't serious about a debt default, think again.

While Democrats refuse to negotiate on the continuing resolution and the debt limit, apparently assuming the GOP will eventually cave, House Republicans insist they are prepared to bring borrowing authority to a screeching halt.

"I can assure you it's not posturing. It's not a political play or anything like that," Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., told CQ Roll Call on Tuesday.

Gingrey said Republicans were "absolutely" prepared to lose the House to extract concessions on the CR and the debt limit, and he said the White House is "missing the determination of the Republican Party."

"I mean, they seem to think that we will miss this opportunity for a 'Braveheart' moment to do the right thing for the American people and that we'll back down for fear of losing the House and not gaining control of the Senate," Gingrey said.

President Barack Obama held a news conference Tuesday during which he reiterated his position that Democrats would not negotiate with Republicans "for the mere act of reopening the government or paying our bills."

But Republicans insist Obama will have to negotiate if he wants the debt ceiling raised, and it is that impasse that makes a debt default far more likely than many anticipate.

"I don't think he's going to win a game of chicken," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., about Obama's "no negotiations" position.

House Republicans were expected to pass a bill Tuesday evening that would create a bipartisan, bicameral working group to address the current fiscal impasse.

The don't-call-it-a-supercommittee Bicameral Working Group on Deficit Reduction and Economic Growth is supposed to force Democrats to the negotiating table — or at least provide more political cover for Republicans.

Democrats are skeptical, and the White House has issued a veto threat. Obama said he'd be willing to consider adding a process for negotiations to a short-term debt limit increase — provided that it's not a "concession" to the GOP.

"I know that Speaker [John A.] Boehner has talked about setting up some new process or some new supercommittee or what have you," Obama said. "You know, the leaders up in Congress, they can work through whatever processes they want, but the bottom line is, either you're having good-faith negotiations in which there's give-and-take, or you're not."

Good-faith negotiations, for Obama, means the GOP has to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling for at least a short-term basis.

That seems to be a nonstarter for Republicans.

"There can be no movement until they come to the table," said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky.

Massie seemed to believe, like many in the GOP, that Republicans hold the better public relations position on the shutdown and the debt limit, and that Democrats have blundered.

"I think they miscalculated their message," Massie said. "They have the wrong message. [The] American public is not going to respond well to a president or a Senate that is not going to negotiate. That's a horrible message for them."

But Democrats feel they have a winning argument.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., indicated Tuesday that he thought Americans were sick of the posturing and mini-CRs the House has passed.

"It is a game. It is a pretense without substance and without principle. It's all politics," Hoyer said.

While Republicans and Democrats are at a negotiating impasse, it is the communications impasse that is perhaps more alarming.

Asked whether the White House had miscalculated the determination of House Republicans to extract concessions on the debt limit even with the threat of default looming, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said, "You hit the nail on the head there — that's exactly the problem."

While Farenthold cautioned that he can't read the president's or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's minds — "I'm not sure I'd want to if I could" — he said both had misjudged the GOP's stance on raising the debt ceiling.

"It's about what's good for America; it's not about politics," Farenthold said.

Indeed, Republicans seem to believe they'd do more harm by passing a no-strings-attached debt ceiling hike than by defaulting.

"The only thing more irresponsible or insane than the president letting us default on our debt would be the president's demand that we increase the federal debt ceiling without addressing our nation's spending problem," said Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., at a GOP leadership press conference Tuesday.

For many Republicans, the shutdown and the debt limit have nothing to do with politics. And according to one senior GOP lawmaker, that's precisely the miscalculation from the White House and the Senate that could lead to a debt default.

“The White House and the Senate need to figure they’re playing with fire," the lawmaker said.

The lawmaker told CQ Roll Call that the White House is "still sort of locked in the old school that, ‘We won’t shut down the government, we won’t default.'

"And here we are in a shutdown, and they think they’re just going to play politics," the lawmaker said. "And they got to understand that there are people that are real committed to doing something big and doing something effective. That’s why they came here."

The lawmaker added that the White House never established relationships with members, that the White House doesn't understand "especially the sophomore class, and they underestimate their willpower.”

The senior GOP lawmaker said it was never the speaker's plan to shut down the government or default. And yet the government is closed, and default, a once unthinkable proposition, is a real possibility.

"That’s what I’m saying," the lawmaker said.

“They think it’s all just politics. It’s not. These guys, a lot of our conference, a majority, are committed to doing something big. It’s why they ran, it’s why they came here," the lawmaker said. "And they keep thinking it’s politics.”