Soon after the next Congress is sworn in, members will face their first major test: can they agree to increase the nation’s debt ceiling, or will they refuse to do it and force either a government shut-down or a government default on our existing debt.
Republicans are already threatening to attach major strings to that legislation — but more on that later. Suffice it to say: the consequences of a default or a shut-down would be dramatic.
Today, though, one of Tuesday night’s big Republican winners wouldn’t commit to forcing a showdown with President Obama on the debt ceiling — at least not with the fierceness conservatives would like to see.
“When you were a member of Congress you had to deal with this during your six years. Can you — do you feel as if you’ve got a way to vote against this and still make sure the government doesn’t shut down?” Pat Toomey (R-PA) was asked on MSNBC.
Toomey demurred, “Let’s see the context that we’re that in at the time the vote comes. I think we’ve got to get very serious about getting this budget under control. We’ve got to do it in a context of expanding growth. We can not continue running one-and-a-half trillion deficits….We can’t be defaulting on existing debt either. It’s time we got serious about this. We have to look at all these pieces when we approach this question.”
When pressed, he still wouldn’t take a position.
“I want to see where we are when the vote comes and what the context is and what we’ve been able to — what kind of progress we’ve made on the budget. Let’s look at where we are then.”
Keep an eye on this. It will be the first big flashpoint next Congress, and the first real opportunity for Republicans, if they want, to shutdown the government.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.