Republicans Could Force Multiple Debt Ceiling Votes Before 2012

January 21, 2011 5:26 a.m.

Members of both parties are preparing for a big brouhaha over the debt ceiling a few months from now. Democrats are daring Republicans to allow the country to default. Republicans are insisting that they’ll only raise the debt limit if the measure is paired with truly dramatic spending cuts. Both sides think they have the upper hand, and only one side can be right about that. But when all’s said and done, everybody agrees the debt ceiling will be raised.

The question now is: for how long?

All speculation thus far has centered on the immediate fight. But if Congress decides to raise the debt limit by only a modest increment, Republicans will set themselves up for more bites at the apple in the coming months.TPM caught up with Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) after a House vote on Wednesday and he suggested that the size of the increment will likely be proportional to the extent of the spending cuts.

“Get a balanced budget amendment, then, yeah, then we’ll support removing the debt ceiling question for a long time,” he said.

Before the country hits its debt limit, Congress will have to agree on new federal spending levels. Price told me that the debt limit extension will depend on the outcome of those negotiations.

“I think there are three moving parts,” he said. “The continuing resolution is one, the budget is another, and the debt ceiling is another. And actually they all have some kind of interplay. And depending on what happens on continuing resolution and the budget, I think the debt ceiling’s probably the third of those that will occur from a time standpoint. So what happens on those first two affect what happens on the final one.”

“If we can get on a path to a balanced budget, then I think that we’re open to the question about how long to address the debt ceiling,” he added.

At his weekly press conference Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans haven’t considered how extensively they want to increase the debt limit. But there’s at least some conservative support for the idea of a modest change. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal quoted Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell saying his group supports a “temporary increase” in the debt ceiling.

That would set up a slow-bleed scenario, forcing another vote or votes on the debt before the 2012 election. For now, the political consequences of that dynamic are unclear.

“I can see them playing that game,” says Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA). “I can see the markets reacting somewhat concerned. You see a gyration in the markets as a result of that, that you can attribute to the politicizing of the debt ceiling. But they’re going to run this as hard as they can and it will be up to Democrats to see how strong we’ll be as well.”

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