Perhaps foreseeing a showdown between new Republican members of Congress and party leadership, Speaker-elect John Boehner said Thursday that despite commitments from many freshman lawmakers not to raise the national debt limit, the House will have to take action early next year.
“I’ve made it pretty clear to them that as we head into next year it’s pretty clear that Congress is going to have to deal with this,” Boehner said of need to raise the level of debt the United States will be allowed to shoulder. “We’re going to have to deal with it as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part.”
Budget analysts warn that a failure to raise the debt ceiling, which was set at $14.3 trillion since Congress raised it in February, could spook foreign investors out of buying debt, damage the dollar’s value and cause a partial government shut down. Boehner has vowed that his party will not repeat what happened in 1995, when a Republican-led Congress would not approve a measure to fund the government, a move that ultimately hurt the party’s image after a landslide election.
Call it an early step in the learning curve for members of an emboldened freshman class that has been outspoken about its intention to hold to campaign promises and principles.
“I am against increasing the debt ceiling,” a candid Florida Rep.-elect David Rivera said on the first day of freshman orientation Monday. “It is going to be very, very difficult, I would say next to impossible to change my position on any of those issues.” He qualified that he is entertaining the possibility that new information could emerge, but at the time, he said he did not accept the premise that the debt ceiling would have to be raised.
South Carolina Rep.-elect Tim Scott, who was elected this week to co-represent the freshman class in party leadership, voiced opposition to increasing the debt ceiling just last week. When asked about his stance on the issue as late as Friday, however, he declined to comment.
While en-route between having their class photo taken on the Capitol steps and receiving their office assignments Friday, other freshman members told The Daily Caller that they have no plans to vote to increase the debt ceiling.
“We need to make a very strong stance [on spending],” said Rep.-elect Jeff Denham of California, who said he would vote against such a measure.
“No, I’m not going to vote for raising the debt ceiling,” said North Carolina Rep.-elect Renee Ellmers, who just received word moments earlier that she had officially secured a seat in Congress. “I think that would be the wrong message to send.” She added, however, that she would “have to see where the situation is” in 2011.
For some of the Tea Party-backed Republicans, ensuring a “nay” on the prospective measure is as much a matter of saving face as it is holding to principles. While on the campaign trail, many candidates, including South Dakota Rep.-elect Kristi Noem and Florida Rep.-elect Allen West, railed against Democrats for voting to raise it last year.
“That was one of the things I used against my opponent so I’m not going to turn around and fall into the same trap,” said West.
Despite the staunch opposition within the freshman class, Boehner will not be facing a bloc vote against the measure.
Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, who chairs the committee to get Republicans elected to Congress, has already begun crafting the party line to justify the decision to support raising the limit, which some new members have adopted.
“When you’re out spending wildly and then you’re willing to raise the debt limit, that’s a problem,” Sessions said Thursday, referring to Democrats who supported major spending bills and raised the debt limit last year to help pay for them. “A comprehensive plan, including a budget that clearly lays out priorities and expectations of performance … is a very responsible position.”
Boehner said Thursday he plans to discuss the party’s strategy to address the budget problem with new members of Congress in the coming months.
Jeff Winkler contributed to this report.