GOP strategist: Republicans should not create debt ceiling “crisis”

Amid all the talk of GOP makeovers, one question has gotten very little attention: Given that the public already sees the GOP as the more intransigent party in fiscal standoffs, if it wants to improve its image, shouldn’t the party stop provoking governing crises and threatening to tank the country’s economy to get what it wants?

Both John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have confirmed they will again demand spending cuts in exchange for the debt ceiling hike President Obama will soon request again. Boehner said today that Republicans would ask for a “dollar for dollar” match of new cuts to the debt limit hike. McConnell has confirmed Republicans will insist on entitlement cuts. There has been no talk to speak of among GOP officials about whether this is really a good idea for a party trying to repair its problems.

But in an interview with me this afternoon, GOP strategist John Feehery said he didn’t think it was a wise move for Republicans to provoke another crisis.

“I think they’ve gained a lot of credibility with fiscal conservatives on fiscal issues and they don’t need to create a crisis on the debt limit to get that credibility,” Feehery said. “They could squander a lot of their good PR if they create a crisis.”

“If we have a crisis on the debt limit and the stock market takes another whack like they did last time there’s some risk for Republicans,” Feehery continued. “They could get the blame.” Feehery said he didn’t believe Republican leaders had any intention of provoking a crisis.

What’s interesting here is how rare this kind of talk is among Republicans. For all the discussion about how the party should repair its image problems, the talk about any substantive changes it might undertake has focused on issues like immigration and gay rights. There’s been very little suggestion of any substantive rethink on fiscal issues or on basic questions such as whether it’s a good idea for the GOP to continue provoking crises to get its way.

This lack of discussion about crisis governing continues even as the sequester is beginning to sink in. While there’s been a good deal of GOP triumphalism about it — and while it’s true that Obama’s standing is probably taking a hit from the sequester — there are still plenty of signs the politics of this could damage, and are damaging, Republicans. For instance, a new Pew poll out today finds Obama’s approval is slipping, but it also finds Obama is more trusted than Republicans on handling the deficit, 53-39. The poll also shows public agreement with Dems on the broad strokes, with Americans prioritizing protecting entitlement benefits over cutting the deficit, 55-34.

Meanwhile, the cuts are beginning to become a reality. For instance, a Head Start program in Arkansas is closing its doors for the summer 13 days in advance, and there are multiple other examples popping up around the country. It’s still unclear how being the party of austerity-only-and-forever and crisis-to-crisis governing is a sustainable posture for the GOP over the long term.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | March 21, 2013