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If the president thinks Republicans won’t demand spending cuts as part of a debt-ceiling deal, "then he hasn’t talked to a lot of members in our conference," said Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa. Asked if it would be dangerous for the United States to default on its financial obligations, Gerlach replied: "We’re in a dangerous situation now. We’re $16 trillion in debt and climbing."
Until the fiscal cliff was resolved, Obama held political leverage on the issue of tax hikes. Now, Republicans say, with Obama vehement about raising the debt limit, the negotiating leverage for spending cuts is on their side.
"The debt ceiling is our next best opportunity to start controlling spending," said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
To fully carry out a threat, of course, a bargainer must be willing to take the most dire action — to "shoot the hostage," in the words of Chris Chocola, president of the rigorously conservative Club for Growth. "If you’re not willing to use your leverage," he said, "you don’t have any."
The only thing less responsible than refusing to raise the debt ceiling," Chocola said, "is continuing to put us more in debt."
Obama’s allies say Wall Street and other business sectors, even if they support major spending cuts, will lean heavily on Republicans to raise the debt ceiling.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama "stands ready to compromise with Republicans on a balanced approach to reducing our deficit that includes cutting spending, reforming entitlements and asking wealthy Americans and American corporations to pay a little more. But that agreement will not be the ransom paid for the full faith and credit of the United States of America."
Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said Republicans will be tough but responsible.
"We don’t want to unnecessarily antagonize the American people," Fleming said. "But on the other hand, I can tell you my constituents, overwhelmingly, would much rather see us not raise the debt ceiling than to not deal with the spending that needs to be dealt with."
A recent CBS News poll, which summarized the arguments for and against raising the debt limit, found 25 percent of Americans in favor of lifting the ceiling. Sixty-eight percent opposed.
White House officials say public opinion will shift as people learn more about the issue.
Chocola, Scalise and others say the nation need not default on its loans even if the debt-ceiling deadline passes unresolved. The administration can set priorities, they say, to pay the most important obligations first.
"It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well-being of our country," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, wrote in a Houston Chronicle opinion article on the debt ceiling issue.
Such remarks, Democrats say, are the fantasies of "default deniers."
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