Senate Republicans are threatening openly to throw up their hands and let Democrats vote to raise the debt limit on their own if President Obama doesn’t cave and agree to trillions of dollars in entitlement cuts and zero tax increases. Here’s how NRSC chairman John Cornyn (R-TX) put it, speaking to reporters Tuesday:
“I am wondering if as the deadline approaches, whether our Democratic colleagues in the Senate have realized that unless the President’s willing to do a grand bargain that’s good for the American people how much he’s opening his own political party — candidates running for 2012 in the United States Senate — to a referendum on his failure to reach a grand bargain,” Cornyn said. “Obviously if it’s possible to deal with the spending problem and the entitlement reforms, that’s our first choice. But if the President and his party refuse to do the right thing, then in the Senate they’re going to be required to vote to raise the debt limit and we’ll have a referendum in 2012 on that decision. I don’t think if I were a senator on the other side of the aisle I would view that prospect with a lot of pleasure.”
Translation: give us what we want, or we’ll leave it to you to avoid default, then spend the next year and a half running against you on the grounds that you voted to give President Obama a blank check for massive government spending.That wouldn’t be true. But it doesn’t have to be for Republicans’ political purposes. Raising the debt limit polls about as high as razor-wire chewing gum. And whereas in the Senate the responsibility for raising it lies with the Democrats, in the House it’s up to the GOP leadership. So this is either a different recipe for defaulting on the debt, or a turf-protecting way of passing the buck to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
Everyone knows Boehner is stuck between the absolute imperative that Congress raise the debt limit, and the highly partisan demands of his caucus, which won’t vote to allow the country to borrow more money without simultaneously cutting a big hole into the social safety net. For weeks, that put him in the middle of the legislative food fight.
But as House GOP demands escalated, and after Boehner’s top negotiator, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), walked out of debt negotiations last week, the Senate is now the center of the action. And the dynamic on that side of the Capitol is very different.
In some ways, it’s tougher for Democrats over here. And it’s hard to see an easy way out of it for them.