DES MOINES — Even as Republican Congressional leaders press ahead in high-stakes budget negotiations with President Obama, the party’s presidential candidates are campaigning against any outcome that smacks of compromise, underscoring divisions in the party over whether to raise the federal debt limit.
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Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota seized on the issue last week to introduce herself to voters in the first television commercial of her presidential campaign. Regardless of what type of agreement is reached, Mrs. Bachmann declared in the ad: “I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling.”Story: Obama: 'Nothing can be off-limits' in budget
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who was critical of the deal brokered this year between Mr. Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner that averted a government shutdown, said he was not convinced of the dire consequences predicted by Democrats if no deal was reached and the government lost its authority to borrow on Aug. 2.
“I hope and pray and believe they should not raise the debt ceiling,” Mr. Pawlenty told voters here last week. “These historic, dramatic moments where you can draw a line in the sand and force politicians to actually do something bold and courageous are important moments.”
The sharp stances mean that even if Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, and Mr. Obama all reach agreement in negotiations that will continue at the White House on Sunday evening, the Republican leaders could find their party’s presidential field campaigning against them. At the very least, that could complicate the leaders’ efforts to find the votes they would need.
With their own campaigns only a year away, many Republicans in Congress are turning to the party’s presidential candidates for an early warning sign of how the budget issue is playing on the trail.Story: Health care cuts proposed in deficit negotiations
The grass-roots conservative opposition to a deal that includes any kind of tax increase or fails to cut government spending substantially is frequently aired at town-hall-style meetings with the candidates and in calls to talk radio programs, and it overshadows discussions of the potential economic fallout should the government actually default.
Fellow Republicans say Mrs. Bachmann’s position in particular would influence House colleagues who see her as a reliable measure of the Tea Party zeitgeist.
“Michele is a good barometer,” said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia. “The Tea Party really likes her.”
Despite the intense effort that Mr. Boehner is putting into structuring a deal that Republicans can support without breaking any no-tax-increase promises, it is clear that many Republicans in the House and Senate will oppose any increase in the debt ceiling no matter what concessions they might win.Story: Senate to work next week on debt limit impasse
On the presidential campaign trail, Representative Ron Paul of Texas said Republicans should not accept any deal that includes a tax increase, calling it a “ploy.” While Mrs. Bachmann has suggested that no bipartisan deal would be acceptable, Mr. Pawlenty told voters here last week that “if it comes to a point where they feel that they must,” he said a balanced-budget amendment was an essential trade-off.
Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, has said he would agree to increasing the federal debt limit only if a deal was “accompanied by a major effort to restructure and reduce the size of government.” Jon M. Huntsman Jr., a former governor of Utah, has said spending cuts must be equal or greater than the value of any debt ceiling increase.
Nearly three dozen House Republicans and another dozen in the Senate have joined most of the Republican presidential candidates in signing a pledge that they will not vote to support the debt limit increase unless Congress approves a balanced budget-amendment to the Constitution, which is an unlikely proposition in the coming weeks. (Mrs. Bachmann declined to sign the pledge, because she wanted to include a repeal of the Obama health care plan.)
Much of the freshman class that provided the party with its majority in the House has been skeptical of warnings about serious economic upheaval that would follow a government default, as well as of the Treasury Department’s insistence that there will be nothing more it can do to keep the government solvent after its Aug. 2 deadline.
Republicans could conceivably face harsh consequences if they oppose a debt ceiling increase, the government defaults on some of its obligations and there are calamitous financial repercussions.
But many Republicans see supporting any agreement as carrying more political risk. Put into power in part by the Tea Party movement, Republicans who agree to vote to raise the debt limit could suddenly find themselves looking at challenges from fellow Republicans. Party strategists acknowledge that the threat of facing a primary challenge is a consideration for House and Senate members.
The relative newcomers to Congress say they are weighing the issue extremely carefully and are awaiting the specifics of any deal. They know the hazards of the vote and are comparing it to the vote in 2008 to approve the bank bailout, a vote that has come to haunt some Republicans.
“This, I think, will be one of the toughest votes that any member of Congress is going to have to take,” Representative Aaron Schock, Republican of Illinois, said in a recent speech.
“We have to be able to go home,” Mr. Schock said, “and sell it to our constituents and explain it.”Story: In deficit plan, Obama picks fight on taxes
The situation in the Senate is markedly different from the House, where Republicans are in control and are under pressure to deal with the debt vote. Senate Republicans are in the minority, which is something of a luxury because Democrats will be called upon to produce most of the support for any debt deal.
Seeing themselves within reach of winning the Senate majority in 2012, Senate Republicans are eager to watch threatened Democratic incumbents forced to vote for a package that could represent a politically unappetizing trifecta: a debt ceiling increase, reductions in popular social programs like Medicare and possible tax increases.
Mr. Pawlenty, who often recalls a government shutdown in 2005 during his tenure as Minnesota governor as an example of his leadership credentials, urged Republicans in Washington to hold fast.
“It will be difficult, it will be a showdown,” Mr. Pawlenty told a group of voters in Des Moines last week. “But this is one of the few moments in the nation’s history where people are going to have to leverage to get something done of a big nature.”
This story,"Presidential Candidates Warn About Debt Deal," originally appeared in The New York Times.
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