WASHINGTON -- A Republican congressman is cautioning against embracing the possibility of a government shutdown in order to achieve spending cuts and entitlement reforms in the upcoming debt ceiling debate.
Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) appeared on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" on Tuesday and said he was open to raising the debt ceiling in order to allow the government to pay off its bills, admitting his position may not be popular with some of his Republican colleagues.
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned that the federal government would no longer be able to avoid defaulting on its debts between mid-February and early March, which could potentially cause significant damage to the U.S. economy and its credit rating.
In order to avoid this scenario, Congress needs to raise the $16.4 trillion debt limit. The president could also invoke the 14th Amendment and raise it without the legislature's approval, but the White House has shown no willingness to use that option.
Many Republicans have said they want to use this upcoming fight to extract agreements on spending cuts and entitlement reforms from Democrats -- a scenario Obama said he won't tolerate.
Republicans like Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) have said that playing hardball by partially shutting down the government may be necessary to get such agreements.
Rigell, however, said on C-SPAN he didn't think that option was wise.
"Okay, let's walk through that. What we're basically saying is, we're going to balance the federal budget not over time, but in a moment, in a day," Rigell said. "So the next morning, what are we going to pay? Do you think we ought to pay the troops? Most people would say, 'Oh gosh, absolutely!' Well, what about those receiving Medicare? 'We need to do that, they're dependent on that.' What about Social Security? 'Well certainly, we earned that, we paid into that.'"
"And you just go down the line, and most folks, if you really walk through it, it's not a good scenario," Rigell continued, adding that the United States took a long time to get so deep in debt, and it's "going to take us awhile to get out of it."
Rigell was more open to the government shutdown option in 2011, when he was the only member of Virginia's congressional delegation to vote against a last-minute bill to stop such a shutdown. He said then that the deficit "threatens the foundation of our country" and "needs to be addressed now" -- a far different line from his belief in 2013 that there's no quick fix.
On C-SPAN, Rigell, a businessman, also explained another evolution he has had while in office. When he ran for Congress in 2010, he believed that the U.S. government had a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Now, he believes that the government also doesn't have enough revenue.
"After I got into office and heard my Democratic friends make the case from the floor so many times that revenues were not high enough, I thought, well, let me either prove or disprove this," Rigell said. "That took me on a journey of evaluating our budget and looking at historical data -- I'm a data-driven person -- and it led me to this conclusion: We have a revenue yield under the old tax code ... of 16.9 percent. We have not run our republic on that level of revenue since 1959 -- before Medicare and Medicaid were even on the table -- so I knew that we had a revenue problem."
He said he has been advocating to his Republican colleagues to agree to an increase in revenue, but has been disappointed that Obama hasn't proposed enough spending cuts as well.
In the Senate, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have both said Republicans should not use the debt limit as leverage. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which often sides with Republicans in legislative fights, is also urging Congress to raise the debt ceiling without requiring that it be tied to cuts.
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