Politics

House freshman leader voices doubts about Boehner’s first ‘adult’ moment, raising debt ceiling

Congressman-elect Tim Scott, one of two incoming freshman Republicans who will serve as part of GOP leadership, is voicing doubts about raising the debt ceiling, a key showdown vote poised for the first few months of the next Congress that incoming Speaker John Boehner has called “first really big adult moment” his conference will face.

Rather than raise the debt ceiling, Scott said he prefers finding spending cuts.

“I think until proven otherwise we’re looking for $300 billion in cuts if that’s possible,” Scott said in an interview. “Right now all the talk about the issue seems to be that it’s a foregone conclusion that you cannot do that. I’d like to let the proof be in the pudding.”

Scott’s comments are important because the incoming class of freshman GOP lawmakers he represents – which includes many Tea Party-backed candidates – is expected to pull Boehner and the rest of the Republican leadership in a fiscally conservative direction. The debt ceiling vote could become a major showdown vote in that battle.

Boehner recently said the vote over the debt ceiling will be the first “adult moment” for the newly elected Republicans, meaning that, though they might not want to vote for it, members will have to in order to avoid “the serious problem that would exist if we didn’t do it.”

“For people who’ve never been in politics it’s going to be one of those growing moments,” Boehner told the New Yorker.

But Scott worries that Boehner and other Republicans are already missing what he considers the point of the last election: that Congress must reign in spending, and now.

“Ultimately, the decision to have business as usual and increase the debt ceiling shows that we are not paying attention to the necessity of spending cuts,” Scott said.

Despite his rhetoric, Scott doesn’t seem eager to break completely with Boehner on the subject.

“If we have spending cuts,” he asked, “is there a way to avoid increasing the debt ceiling? That’s the question. And I think if we don’t research the answer to that question, and look for whether the cuts are possible, I don’t know that you’re saying to the American people that you’re taking seriously the message that we must spend less.”

A spokesman to Boehner did not respond to a request for comment.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, a leading spending hawk, recently vowed that without $350 billion in cuts he will block the raising of the debt ceiling.

Some liberal economists warn that if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, the economy could suffer. The left wing Center for American Progress, for instance, released an Oct. 28 report that said failure to raise the debt ceiling “could lead to a panic in the international financial markets.”

The current debt limit is $1.37 trillion, according to a Nov. 2 report by Congressional Research Service (CRS). Experts predict at current spending levels the ceiling would need to be raised in April.

The Newt Gingrich-led Republicans in the 1990s failed to raise the debt limit for six months in 1995.

When the government reaches its debt limit, the Treasury Department is able to shift funds around temporarily to avoid shutting down the government, the CRS report says.

“If the limit prevents the Treasury from issuing new debt to manage short-term cash flows or to finance an annual deficit, the government may be unable to obtain the cash needed to pay its bills or it may be unable to invest the surpluses of designated government accounts (federal trust funds) in federal debt as generally required by law. In either case, the Treasury is left in a bind; the law requires that the government’s legal obligations be paid, but the debt limit may prevent it from issuing the debt that would allow it to do so,” the report says.