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The GOP’s debt limit strategy (or lack thereof)

at 06:30 AM ET, 04/25/2011

Republicans continue to tease the idea that they will not vote to raise the debt limit, as judgment day approaches and another standoff awaits.

The most recent example came Sunday, when Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) suggested that Congress may not vote to raise the limit, which the country is set to hit in a few weeks time.

“Maybe or maybe not,” Kirk said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” reiterating that he would not vote to raise it unless significant steps are taken to rein in future deficits.

The messenger is key here. Kirk is hardly the picture of a tea party Republican. Elected repeatedly in a Democratic-leaning House district before winning in a blue state in November, Kirk is one of the more moderate Republicans in all of Congress.

If he is toying with not raising the debt limit, that says something about the GOP’s posture.

At the same time, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has expressed confidence that Republicans know they must raise the debt ceiling and have expressed this to the White House.

So is Geithner right, or are Republicans like Kirk really prepared to go to the brink?

The answer is that we will probably never find out. This is all a part of the negotiating process, and as with the 11th-hour deal to avert a government shutdown, they will likely meet somewhere in the middle, bringing in enough votes from more moderate and establishment Republicans in Congress to get the debt limit raised.

With congressional approval near an all-time low and the country’s credit rating being called into question, the stakes are simply too high for Republicans or Democrats to draw too firm a line. That’s why we’ve seen even House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) admit that the debt limit needs to be raised.

When Geithner talks about how Republicans know they have to lift the debt ceiling, this is what he’s talking about.

At the same time, we’re seeing a pretty wide swath of Republicans in Congress talking tough on the looming debt limit vote. The fact that that message isn’t coming so much from leadership suggests Republicans don’t quite have a universal strategy on this one, and the negotiations could be just as chaotic as they were on the budget.

Without a more unified GOP message on this issue, Democrats likely aren’t going to take the intermittent threats as seriously. Keep an eye on what Boehner and Ryan say in the coming weeks, because their words will really signal how far Republicans are willing to go.

Wisconsin starts lawyering up: The recall campaigns in Wisconsin have moved into the lawyer-heavy phase, as the campaigns start vetting signatures, disputing their opponents’ petitions and defending their own.

Eight recall petitions have been submitted: five against Republican state senators and three against Democrats.

The state Democratic Party is attacking the GOP for using paid out-of-staters to circulate their petitions. That’s legal in Wisconsin, but Democrats claim that the circulators violated the law in their methods, including offering shots to bar patrons in exchange for signatures.

Republicans are arguing that the paperwork against their state senators was not properly filled out.

Pressure on Nevada governor: Some Republicans are pressuring Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) to appoint a placeholder to replace resigning Sen. John Ensign (R), sparing the state a special election for Rep. Dean Heller’s (R) House seat. But the governor is still expected to pick Heller, who was already running for the Senate and would get the advantage of incumbency. (Of course, as Nate Silver pointed out last week, it isn’t as big an advantage as one might think.)

Meanwhile, the state Republican and Democratic parties are arguing about whether special election law would allow them to pick their nominees or put all the candidates in a wide-open race. Republicans prefer the former, while Democrats would like the latter.

Florida GOP makes its move: Before a round of redistricting that could dilute their majorities in the state legislature, Florida Republicans are moving to weaken Democrats by targeting their major donors. New bills would make it harder for trial lawyers to make a profit and unions to collect dues, while regulations on traditional GOP donors would be lifted.

Republicans have controlled the state legislature for the past 15 years, despite Florida’s reputation as a swing state. But thanks to a constitutional amendment that passed last November, the state’s new redistricting laws could make it harder for Republicans to protect some of their incumbents.

Fixbits:

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) might get into the presidential race this week, the AP reports.

Democrats in the House have tried and failed 23 times to use a parliamentary maneuver that Republicans wielded successfully when they were in the minority -- the motion to recommit.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Sunday morning that he does not regret acting as a mediator between Ensign and his mistress’s husband, who is under federal indictment. Coburn said he does regret the “moral mistakes” Ensign made.

Must-reads:

“For some 2012 candidates’ spouses, campaign spotlight too bright” — Molly Ball, Politico

“Gabrielle Giffords’ doctors, husband share details on her progress” — Jaimee Rose, Arizona Republic

“Over decades, mining forged close ties with regulators” — Anjeanette Damon, Las Vegas Sun

“LeMieux can’t shake Charlie Crist legacy in Senate bid” — Marc Caputo, Miami Herald

 
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