Two hands went in the air.
He got the same reaction at another town hall meeting, and he expects it again at a tea party forum later this week.
Schweikert, a Republican, isn’t sure if he’d raise his hand, either.
This is his dilemma: He knows Congress has little choice but to raise the amount of money the government can borrow to prevent the economic havoc sure to follow if the United States defaults on its loans. He also knows doing so is deeply unpopular — not only among his conservative base, but among some moderates and liberals, too.
“I desperately want to vote ‘no,’ ” Schweikert said at the town hall. “I also desperately don’t want [the economy] to crash.”
If Schweikert finds himself in a difficult political spot, it’s partly of his own making. He and the scores of other Republicans who were elected last fall ran on an unyielding pledge to cut spending, reduce the nation’s debt and generally get the country’s finances in order, a mission that has been fully embraced by party leaders in Washington.
Now, a few months after taking office, they are caught between their convictions, their constituents and their duties as congressmen.
If they vote to raise the debt limit, some will see them as sellouts, corrupted by the same Washington they promised to fix. If they don’t, they could endanger the nation’s economy.
Political strategists have begun comparing the debt ceiling to TARP, the $700 billion bank bailout that was seen as must-pass legislation when it cleared Congress at the height of the recession in 2008 but was so unpopular that it ended up costing some lawmakers their careers.
Many freshmen, including Schweikert, are searching for a middle ground, saying they would reluctantly raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit if spending caps or other long-term measures to bring down the deficit are part of the deal.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has privately told administration officials and Wall Street executives that he believes raising the debt limit is the responsible thing to do. Still, he has signaled that he plans to leverage the reluctance of fellow Republicans to win longer-term spending concessions from Democrats.
When told of the pros and cons of raising the debt limit, 62 percent of Americans surveyed in an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll this month said they did not support raising the debt limit. Thirty-two percent supported raising it.
That this would be a tough sell to the public was clear even before Schweikert entered the auditorium of the Granite Reef Senior Center for his town hall on Monday. As people settled in their seats, Dennis Dugan approached the congressman’s chief of staff and held up a picture of a penguin that a 6-year-old family friend drew.