GOP Split As August 2 Debt-Ceiling Deadline Approaches

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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Ever since Speaker of the House John Boehner dropped out of White House–led talks for a $4 trillion deficit-and-debt-ceiling package, the Republicans have been offering up a series of ultimatums and alternatives. The only thing is, the GOP lawmakers delivering them are not always in agreement with each other.

Today, the Hill and BusinessWeek both reported that Senator Tom Coburn — who so famously walked out of the Gang of Six talks two months ago — is planning to unveil a $9 trillion deficit-cutting package that would include, horror of horrors, $1 trillion in defense-spending cuts over ten years and $1 trillion in additional revenue from closing tax loopholes. (For instance, the ethanol subsidy, which the senator has long opposed.) It's a bold move considering that the mere mention of revenue increases is practically heresy if you go by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl or House Majority Leader Eric Cantor; the latter recently mentioned that any deficit-reduction plan could not include any "net new revenues" if it wished to survive a House vote. That said, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has jumped on Coburn's bandwagon and now says he would support closing tax loopholes.

Officially, the Republican leadership is now focusing its energies on smaller $2 trillion scale talks overseen by Vice-President Joe Biden, but a recent article in the New York Times gives the distinct impression that many freshman GOP lawmakers are going to cause trouble whatever their leaders decide to do. An increasingly vocal faction says it will "oppose any and every effort to raise the debt limit" (those are the words of freshly minted Utah Senator Mike Lee) unless a balanced budget amendment is added to the Constitution. Others, including Representative Tom Reed of New York's 29th and Louisiana Representative Jeff Landry, are calling the Obama Administration's warnings of imminent default baseless; but if things really do come to that, well, they're willing to risk their reelections to get the government's spendthrift ways under control.

Recently, another option began circulating as a serious possibility: a vote to allow President Obama to raise the debt ceiling without Congress's permission. Spearheaded by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid, the idea got some early murmurings of approval from the White House and other lawmakers. Except now Republicans are breaking rank and coming out against the plan — among them Lindsay Graham and Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, head of the House Republican Study Committee, who said it was a non-starter: "The McConnell plan doesn't have 218 Republican votes. No way."

This internal discord may ultimately mean that the Republican leadership is forced to ditch their right flank in favor of support from centrist Democrats, allowing for a far more moderate package to rise to the surface. That's the "glass half full" perspective. The pessimist's view seems the more likely outcome with the impasse persisting and what few cool heads as are left in Washington sick with the same feverish partisanship as their colleagues.

Coburn to Offer $9 Trillion Budget-Cut Plan to Spur Debt Talks [BusinessWeek]
Freshman House Republicans Worried About Debt, And Not Re-Election [NYT]
GOP split over McConnell plan [Politico]