GOP divided over government shutdown

A number of Republicans are hinting that a government shutdown should be on the table in the debt ceiling debate

Topics: Mitch McConnell, House Republicans, John Boehner, John Cornyn, Debt ceiling, Government shutdown,

A number of Republicans have said they’d be open to a partial government shutdown or a default on the country’s debts in order to secure larger spending cuts before raising the debt ceiling. But GOP leadership has been cagier on the subject.

As the Washington Post reported over the weekend:

Top GOP leaders thus far appear to be stopping short of invoking the specter of a federal shutdown: At a meeting with Republican lawmakers before the House adjourned on Friday, Boehner renewed his May 2011 pledge to seek a deal that includes spending cuts greater than the amount of the debt-ceiling increase. He touted the results of a GOP poll showing that 72 percent of Americans back such a proposal; other polls show the public is less enthusiastic when asked about specific programs to cut.

“The debate is already underway,” Boehner told House Republicans, according to a person in the room who was not authorized to speak publicly about the closed meeting.

There is exceedingly little time for Republican Party members to get on the same page, complicating the strategy for a party emerging from the chaos of “fiscal cliff,” the politics of Hurricane Sandy relief and an attempted rebellion against Boehner in his bid for a second term as House speaker.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for his part, has been cautious about whether shutting down the government is on the table. When asked on ABC’s “This Week” whether he’d be willing to “shoot the hostage,” McConnell dodged: “It’s not even necessary to get to that point. Why aren’t we trying to solve the problem?”

And as the Wall Street Journal reports:

Mr. McConnell, who stepped in to help forge the fiscal-cliff compromise with the White House, warned afterward that he doesn’t want to play that role again. Both he and Mr. Boehner are saying they want to abandon the practice of conducting high-drama negotiations with Mr. Obama. “These last-minute deals are no way to run government,” Mr. McConnell said on ABC.

Meanwhile, other Senate Republicans have indicated that it is an option. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, advocated for a possible partial shutdown in an Op-Ed in the Houston Chronicle. “It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain,” Cornyn wrote on Friday.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said a partial shutdown would be “a hell of a lot better” than allowing Obama to raise taxes or increase spending. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had a similar take: “I think we have to be prepared to go so far as to shut the government down if we don’t get some serious policies to stop the out of control spending to tackle the debt.”

But Tea Party-backed Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., rejected the idea of a shutdown in an interview with the Washington Post. “When you’re fighting two wars, it’s just not very practical,” he said.

Obama has been adamant that he won’t allow Congress to take the debt ceiling hostage. “While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether they should pay the bills for what they’ve racked up,” Obama said last week. “We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred.”

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at

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