WASHINGTON -- GOP opposition to a deal that would extend the debt ceiling through the 2012 elections softened a bit on Friday as an influential Senate Republican said he supported the idea of putting off the issue for another year and a half.
Appearing on MSNBC, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that in light of the drama and political theatrics of the past few weeks, it would not be "healthy" to have to raise the debt ceiling again in six months -- something that House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) bill would require.
"Well, I mean, I would love to see us go ahead and achieve all the savings that we can get right now," said Corker, who has played a leading role in his party in debt reduction conversations. "Again, I'd like, of course to push it towards $4 trillion, which is what the markets have said we need to do. But I do agree with the fact that having these debates in the middle of an economic downturn that we're having right now is not healthy, and there's no question that business people, those people that hire employees across our country, watch this and become uncertain."
"So, in a perfect world, and I know we're not in a perfect world, but if we can … over the next several days [get] something that actually achieves all those savings on the front end and also extends the debt limit beyond this next election, to me that would be a perfect solution and I hope we can do that," he said.
Those sentiments seemed to be echoed later Friday morning when a Senate GOP leadership aide told CNBC's John Harwood that the party would be comfortable extending the debt ceiling past the 2012 elections, provided that they had some sort of guarantee that a second round of spending cuts and entitlement reforms would take place.
The softening of the Senate GOP's position is a breakthrough of sorts in the debt ceiling debate. For days, House Republicans have argued that they would not sign off on a debt ceiling deal that put off another vote until after the election, accusing the President of simply trying to remove a potentially problematic political issue from the campaign docket. The most common argument has been that Congress has always extended the debt ceiling in smaller increments, making Boehner's bill the norm and Senator Harry Reid's bill -- which would push the vote until after 2012 -- the exception to the rule.
Yet looking at past debt ceiling votes, that hasn't always been the case. In May 2003, Congress passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling to $7.4 trillion. It was, at the time, the equivalent of an 18-month increase -- roughly the same time extension (not monetary extension) that Obama is requesting -- and it put the issue off through the 2004 election. (The next debt ceiling vote was held in November 2004).
Twenty Republican Senators currently in Congress voted for that bill. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), currently the minority leader, asked for unanimous consent. President George W. Bush's Treasury Secretary, John W. Snow, said at the time that the legislation "prevents uncertainty that would adversely impact our economic recovery."
In the House, meanwhile, 216 Republicans voted for the final draft of the legislation that raised the debt ceiling. A Republican congressman from Virginia named Eric Cantor was one of those in support. Rep. Boehner did not vote on the final version. But he did back the budget resolution containing the debt ceiling increase when it first came up in the House.