GOP Is Badly Split in Debt Limit Battle

The fault lines in the Republican Party, seen in the New Year’s Day House vote over the compromise fiscal cliff deal and again over relief for victims of Superstorm Sandy, appear to be growing wider.

This will be a big issue as House Republicans gather in Williamsburg, Va.  for their annual retreat where, according to National Journal, they will

…seek to emerge with more unified strategies and a public messaging campaign in the upcoming debt-ceiling, tax, and spending battles.  And they will do so as some polls show the public holds them in low esteem, and even Republican pollsters say the party has an image problem.

Good luck with that, because once again party elders and those with some grasp on reality are squaring off against true believers and those pandering to the rage and radicalism of Tea Party voters—who are, let’s face it, the real cause of the party’s problems.

Here, for instance, is Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), an otherwise intelligent conservative, who denies that any default on government obligations would be a problem:

No Treasury Secretary or president would actually default on the debt, even if they couldn’t borrow more money.

He went on to tell Politico that the president’s warnings about default were “an excuse to ‘keep spending and never address the underlying problem.’”

Sen. Pat Toomey speaks at CPAC's annual meeting in 2011. Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

Sen. Pat Toomey speaks at CPAC’s annual meeting in 2011. Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

Forget about Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, who once again starkly warned Congress not to mess with the debt limit; many partisan Republicans are deeply worried that this is a losing issue that could gravely hurt the party’s image, let alone the country’s finances.

Most notably, an official with the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, which spent tens of millions of dollars on Republicans in the 2012 elections, warned that holding the debt ceiling hostage would be playing to the Democrats’ strength. As AFP president Tim Phillips told the Financial Times:

We’re saying calibrate your message. Focus on overspending instead of long-term debt…Focusing on [the debt ceiling] makes the messaging more difficult.

And Politico’s Morning Money reported that staunch free-market Reagan Republican Lawrence Kudlow said this on his CNBC show:

Republicans ought to stay away from the issue. That’s the first thing. Stay away from the debt ceiling issue. Stay away [from] government shutdowns. They’re political poison and PR disaster.

Kudlow supports cutting spending but not with a guillotine over the American people’s heads; he simply doesn’t want to jeopardize the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

I’m with him on this one, and so are a growing number of Republicans including Wall Street bankers, corporate leaders and old-school fiscal conservatives.

This may all be the result of the harder line taken by President Obama towards the GOP since his re-election, which I wrote about here last week.

Rather than reaching out to Republicans, who dissed him continually over his first four years, the president has played hardball and threatened not to negotiate over the debt limit. So far he’s stuck to his guns.

He’s gotten lots of heat from the Beltway media about this, but if his goal was to divide and conquer the Republican Party, he’s succeeding wildly.

If House or Senate Republicans vote against extending the debt limit and, say, Social Security recipients don’t get their checks, there will be hell to pay for the GOP.

But that doesn’t seem to bother the extremists  in the Republican electorate who are pushing their elected representatives to walk right into their hated enemy’s worst trap.

Also read: How Obama Plans to Crush the GOP

Four Political Predictions for 2013


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