Cut, Cap And Political Balancing Act: The 2012 Field On The Debt Ceiling

We’ve reached crunch time in the debate over the nation’s borrowing limit. In Washington, politicians are huddling, trying to find a politically palatable way to avoid economic disaster while still keeping their bases in line. Out on the campaign trail, the Republicans running for president have a wholly political goal: to take a side in the debt ceiling debate that keeps the base from heading for the hills (or another candidate’s campaign) before the primaries kick off.

How’s that working out?Here’s a brief rundown of where the people who want to replace President Obama are saying about how they’d bring this crisis to an end.

Mitt Romney

The frontrunner for the GOP nomination has joined with his Republican friends in Washington who say, after months of holding the debt ceiling hostage for their own policy ends, that really the whole thing rests on Obama’s shoulders.

Last week, Romney told a crowd in New Hampshire that if Obama would just agree to everything the Republicans want (i.e. the Cut, Cap and Balance plan favored by DC conservatives) he could get this debt ceiling thing licked in no time.

In a memo sent to reporters Saturday, Bill Burton — the former White House staffer now running a Democratic Super-PAC — dismissed the requirement that Congress pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution before the debt ceiling is raised as “an impossible and unrealistic condition.”

Romney makes it sound pretty easy on the trail, though.

“It is within the president’s power to say to the leadership in the House and the Senate that ‘I’ll cut spending, I’ll cap the amount of spending, and I’ll pursue a balanced budget amendment.’ And if the president were to do that this whole debt limit problem goes away,” Romney told the folks in New Hampshire.

Tim Pawlenty

The guy who most thought would be Romney’s strongest challenger (but has so far proven to be anything but) is taking a seriously hard line on the debt ceiling: Default is preferable to tax increases of any kind, Pawlenty says.

Pawlenty took to the Twitters last week to challenge Romney to join him in saying that the one thing that pretty much every economist says is a bad idea might actually be just the solution America needs.

Michele Bachmann

The candidate who actually appears to be Romney’s biggest challenger for the nomination at the moment could not be more clear about her intentions when it comes to the debt ceiling: she ain’t raisin’ it. No way, no how.

This from a TV ad she ran in Iowa, where polls show her leading the pack at the moment:

“I. Will. Not. Vote. To increase the debt ceiling. I’m Michele Bachmann, and I approve this message.”

Bachmann’s also indicated that she’ll sign on to the Cut, Cap and Balance pledge.

Got it?

Newt Gingrich

The man best known these days for his own campaign debt is unique in that he’s actually led a GOP Congress against a Democratic president in a debt ceiling fight before. His advice? Do not under any circumstances take the deal proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Instead, he proposes dragging the fight out with a series of small increases in the debt ceiling which he thinks would put the focus back on Obama.

“The House Republicans ought to go in tomorrow or the next day, pass a $100 billion cut in spending and a $100 billion increase in the debt ceiling so it is exactly balanced,” he told Sean Hannity last week. “That takes us all the way through to September. They should call that the Social Security payment guarantee bill.”

Then they should say to the president, here we’ve taken care of August. All you have to do is get Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats to pass it. You sign it. We can guarantee every senior citizen their Social Security check. Now, Mr. President, are you prepared to stop senior citizens from getting their check?

Put the shoe back on his foot. Make him responsible. You can do that once a month for the next 18 months. You can find $100 billion a month to do it.

Gingrich has also signed the Cut, Cap and Balance pledge.

Jon Huntsman

It’s not exactly clear where Huntsman fits in the presidential contest these days, so it makes sense that it’s not exactly clear where he fits within the politics of the debt ceiling. Back on July 9, he told the St. Petersburg Times he hoped “cooler heads will prevail” and called for a deal that raised the debt ceiling with commensurate cuts to the federal budget.

Ron Paul

Well there’s do doubt where Paul stands: it’s Cut, Cap and Balance or nothing. He’s also ready to call his fellow Republicans to the mat if they refuse. His first campaign TV ad:

The Other Guys

Rick Santorum and Herman Cain are both signatories to the Cut, Cap and Balance pledge, meaning they want to see the ball get rolling on a Constitutional amendment before they’ll sign on to a debt limit increase.