Republican campaign consultants are urging GOP members of the House to forgo any messy fights on raising the debt limit in favor of concentrating on trying to take the Senate in 2014.
“What Republicans have to realize [is] the political winds are in our direction. We can’t risk changing the winds at this stage,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “You can shut down the Obama agenda completely if you have the Senate.”
A GOP decision on the debt ceiling is likely to come out of the annual House retreat scheduled for Jan. 29 in Maryland. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has told Congress he expects the government could be in danger of missing payments by early March, giving lawmakers a narrow window to find another borrowing boost.
“The only way you lose the House is if Dems intercept a Hail Mary pass on the debt ceiling,” another GOP strategist said. “If you lose the House, you open the door to everything.”
At the same time, GOP tacticians acknowledge that the party cannot look weak in the debt ceiling fight and simply grant the president the “clean” hike he wants. Furthermore, the timing of the fight means members facing conservative primary challenges will face a tough dilemma.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in December that the party would not accept “nothing” for the debt ceiling and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he could not imagine a clean increase.
Tea Party and outside conservative groups said this week they are still formulating their approach. Feisty outside groups have helped pull congressional Republicans to the right in several past battles, but they came under intraparty criticism — most notably from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — for pushing the GOP into the ill-fated shutdown fight over ObamaCare.
With the debt limit looming as the next battleground, conservative forces are still looking for a policy win, but are not drawing any lines in the sand.
“Conservatives have the expectation that the debt ceiling is an important tool to reduce the size and scope of the government,” said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. “That’s what conservatives are going to be looking for…that’ll be the expectation from conservative voters.”
Even so, Holler acknowledged that no clear overall strategy has crystallized around the debt limit yet.
Might President Obama be more amendable to negotiations on the debt ceiling considering how much trouble he’s in with the voters over Obamacare?