Underscoring the challenge Republican leaders in Congress will face when they have to round up votes to increase the debt limit — and they will have to increase the debt limit — the most influential conservative in their party is telling his colleagues, ‘if you vote for it, you’ll lose.’
“Based on what I can see around the country, not only are those individuals gone, but I would suspect the Republican Party would be set back many years,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) told ABC when asked about the looming vote.
DeMint is whipping Republicans to support a highly controversial Constitutional amendment requiring the government to maintain a balanced budget, and making tax increases functionally impossible as the price of voting to raise the debt limit. If not?
“It would be the most toxic vote,” DeMint said. “I can tell you if you look at the polls, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, they do not think we should increase the debt limit.”
Party leaders on both sides of the aisle understand the folly here. If Congress fails to raise the debt limit by early August, the U.S. Treasury will either default on its interest payments to lenders, or have to radically curtail spending on crucial government services, lending to states, and payments to vendors. Either way, the consequences would be negative, most experts agree, and many even say they’d be catastrophic.
But numerous influential Republicans like DeMint have planted seeds of doubt about the stakes in the minds of rank and file members in both the House and Senate. Thus, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will likely face significant defections when the vote comes down. Thus, in one highy plausible scenario, raising the debt limit will require significant Democratic buy-in. And if that’s the case, it means the legislative package can’t include a GOP wishlist of dramatic spending cuts to big entitlements. But if Republicans don’t get what they want out of the debate, more of them will defect, meaning leaders will need more Democratic support, and a less draconian bill, which could trigger further GOP backlash in a dynamic that could end in a debt limit measure that can’t pass the Republican-controlled House. That’s the nightmare scenario.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.