Another GOP Senator breaks with debt ceiling hostage strategy

GOP Senator Roy Blunt is not normally thought of as a “maverick” in the mold of John McCain. But this morning, Blunt came out and broke with GOP plans to stage a confrontation over the debt ceiling — which will also include a push to defund Obamacare, if Tea Party lawmakers get their way — putting Blunt at least partly in McCain’s new Compromise Caucus.

Blunt set forth his position in an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, who asked the Senator a good question: Is staging yet another debt ceiling crisis really the way to govern? Here’s the exchange:

TODD: Is this a viable way to govern and legislate in Washington? Your colleagues in the Senate — do you really support this idea of basically no debt limit raise if it includes funding of health care?

BLUNT: No, I don’t support that. I don’t support the health care plan. I think it’s destined to fail. I believe the president keeps postponing it partly because he knows –

TODD: You’re not going to hold the debt ceiling hostage over this?

BLUNT: No, I’m not.

Blunt went on to suggest vaguely that in the past concessions have been won exchange for a debt ceiling hike, but he then squarely broke with the Tea Party bloc in the Senate — which is led by Mike Lee, who is pushing to defund Obamacare — and flatly declared that a debt ceiling confrontation in general is a bad idea:

TODD: You believe Mike Lee’s proposal is unreasonable?

BLUNT: I think holding the debt limit hostage to any specific thing is probably not the best negotiating place.

Blunt went on to suggest that lawmakers should target mandatory spending, not discretionary, by which he seemed to suggest the GOP drive to use the debt limit deadline to force more discretionary cuts is a bad idea. (Obama and Dems are open to a deal that cuts entitlement benefits, to the chagrin of liberals.)

This comes after McCain declared that the American people will not put up with another round of debt ceiling and government shutdown “shenanigans” from House Republicans. McCain, of course, led a group of Republican Senators in breaking with the GOP leadership and the Tea Party to support a slate of Obama nominations, defusing last week’s filibuster crisis.

All of this will continue to feed optimism among Democrats that a sizable bloc of Republican Senators has had it with the current GOP scorched earth obstructionism and hostility to basic governing compromises. (As I noted the other day, keep an eye on the transportation bill for more clues.) The question here is really whether yet another round of confrontation around the debt limit and funding the government will leave this growing bloc no alternative but to publicly break with the leadership/Tea Party alliance, which could conceivably end up helping to force the House GOP to cave.

If there is anything that can deepen this schism, you’d think it would be another debt ceiling confrontation. The House GOP’s leadership’s position — yes, we caved last time, and yes, we know the debt ceiling must be raised to avoid wrecking the economy, but all of Washington must pretend the debt limit gives us leverage anyway, because the Tea Partyers want another confrontation — is so obviously ludicrous that it’s become impossible to ignore. Beyond this, what remains to be seen is whether enough Republican Senators are coming around to the position that the GOP’s overall posture is not tenable over the long term, and if so, what they are prepared to do about it.

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