WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans shouldn't lift a finger to raise the nation's debt limit, argued Sen. John Cornyn on Tuesday. The Texas Republican, who is in charge of the GOP's political strategy for 2012, made the case that his Republican colleagues should leave it to Democrats to do the politically unpalatable, yet economically crucial, deed.
“We should vote against it, and let those people who vote for it explain why they couldn’t stop the spending spree,” Cornyn told reporters.
The two parties are drawing lines in the sand over how to increase the debt limit, a Congressional cap on how much the Treasury can borrow. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told Congress in letter earlier this month that the debt limit will be reached by May 16, but he can take “extraordinary measures” to keep the nation from defaulting on its loans until about August 2.
Republicans in both chambers have said they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agree to major spending concessions, including cuts to entitlements. Vice President Joe Biden is meeting with leaders from both parties to discuss a deal on raising the debt limit. The Gang of Six, a bipartisan group of senators, is also working on a long-term plan to reduce the deficit.
But even if major spending cuts are made in connection with the debt limit increase, Cornyn said it may not be politically palatable for Republicans to vote to raise the debt ceiling.
He has previously said the debt limit could be used to leverage additional spending cuts, particularly if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) must rely on Republicans to pass the bill. Reid has sufficient votes to pass a bill without Republicans, but only if they choose not to filibuster.
Of course, even if Senate Republicans don't vote to raise the debt ceiling, most House Republicans won’t be able to avoid making the vote. Because the GOP controls the House, many Republican representatives will have to vote for the final bill to increase the debt ceiling.
“There’s no incentive at all for Republicans in the Senate to vote for it,” said Cornyn, who is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Unless it does something about entitlements, it’s just superficial.”
The definition of what amounts to a superficial approach to dealing with the debt is likely to dog the White House’s deficit talks. Biden must get Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate to reach an agreement over how to increase the debt ceiling. Although both sides have said that failing to increase the limit would be catastrophic for the economy, they differ on whether a debt increase should be tied to efforts to decrease the deficit, and the scope of those efforts.
Cornyn said he thinks the Senate will eventually vote to raise the debt ceiling, but he is willing to let Democrats do it alone so they will be attacked for allowing the government to go further into debt.
“There’s not going to be a default on the debt. We’ll just let our Democratic friends vote to raise the debt limit in the Senate,” he said.