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Debt-ceiling debate spurs GOP squabbles

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From page A6 | September 24, 2013 |

The issue: At a sensitive time in the nation’s economic recovery, the administration could face economic chaos

The Sept. 30 end of the federal fiscal year always entails a messy political battle of some kind in Congress. Usually, it’s Democrat versus Republican or House versus Senate or Congress versus the White House.

This year, there’s a fascinating difference. It’s House Republican versus House Republican. House Republicans seem to have splintered into more factions than the Italian parliament, only slightly lighter on the histrionics.

BECAUSE CONGRESS once again has failed to do its work by passing a budget on time, lawmakers must pass a series of continuing resolutions — CRs, in legislative parlance — that fund the government on a temporary basis.

The tea party-movement-influenced wing of the House GOP favors passing the CRs, but cutting any funds in those bills that would go toward paying for the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare.” About two-dozen House Republicans already have come out in favor of this scheme.

But since neither President Barack Obama nor Senate Democrats would go along with this, House Republicans risk shutting down all or parts of the government. The House Republicans’ leadership, which bears no love for Obamacare, thinks this is a terrible idea.

National polls and the GOP’s internal polling show that the public generally would blame Republicans for the shutdown and likely take it out on the party in the next election.

THE BELEAGUERED Republicans who lead the House — Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and whip Kevin McCarthy — prefer to wait until month’s end, when Congress must vote to raise the debt ceiling so the government can continue borrowing.

Failure to raise the debt limit means the government will begin defaulting on its debts, with dire and unpredictable consequences. Boehner has pledged not to let the government default. But he wants to tie the increase in the debt ceiling to tax reform, which likely would entail cuts in entitlements — anathema to most Democrats.

Obama and Senate Democratic leaders say they will not negotiate over the debt limit and have begun making the argument that failing to raise it is unconstitutional and that Congress’ permission might not even be necessary.

THUS, AT A sensitive time in the nation’s economic recovery, the administration could face economic chaos. Younger House Republicans believe Obama would back down. However, faced with growing charges that his leadership is weak and uncertain, the president almost dare not.

And then there are those polls showing that Republicans would take the blame for any disruption. All that tough, heated talk to the tea party faithful back home may come back to haunt Republican rebels in the cold light of the Capitol.

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