by Chris Potter
There's been some talk recently about whether Republicans really have the stomach for a debt-ceiling fight, whose ultimate outcome could be a default on payments to government bond-holders. Even Newt "Voice of Reason" Gingrich predicted on MSNBC that the GOP won't go through with it: "The whole national financial system is going to come in to Washington and on television, and say: 'Oh my God, this will be a gigantic heart attack, the entire economy of the world will collapse. You guys will be held responsible.' And they'll cave."
But Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey isn't having any of it.
Republicans, he told conservative talk-radio host Laura Ingraham this morning, must use leverage "on some item that the president really has to have, and really badly wants." And "The president absolutely ... wants to have a whole lot more borrowing authority."
"I think we have to use the debt ceiling as the first step along this path," said Toomey about ongoing Republican efforts to make drastic spending cuts.
Asked by Ingraham about concerns that a debt default would destroy the US government's creditworthiness -- and maybe bring down the entire economy -- Toomey returned to a 2011 plan to prioritize debt repayments and spending on active-duty military. That would avoid default -- which Toomey called "not a risk" -- while forcing shutdowns of other government operations. Toomey allowed that such an outcome would be "very disruptive" and "not optimal" but added "I think we have to be willing to go there."
"Going there" could have a number of less-than-optimal outcomes. Like shutting down the FBI and the court system. Or not sending out tax refunds. And the administration has previously rejected Toomey's prioritization proposal, calling it "default by another name" because it would mean the government would violate other legally binding spending promises.
And even if some debt-ceiling increase is negotiated, that won't be the end of it. Toomey is promising a similar fight in March, when the government will have to renew government-spending bills. "That is another point of leverage that we have," he told Ingraham, "and we should go to the well again."
President Obama can also expect opposition from Toomey on another front: the appointment of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to head the Department of Defense. "At this point, I would have a very hard time supporting his candidacy," Toomey told Ingraham. While he allowed that Hagel should have a chance to testify and answer question, "I’ve got a lot of concerns about his judgment in the past."