As Georgia’s arch-conservative U.S. House Republicans dug in Tuesday against their leaders’ plans to resolve the budget crisis, their Senate counterparts’ voices have grown louder in favor of compromise.
The chasm between Georgia’s House and Senate GOP illustrates how Congress’ stumbling efforts to reopen the government and increase the nation’s borrowing limit are hampered by discord between the two chambers almost as much as the two parties.
The House raced Tuesday to get ahead of a possible bipartisan Senate deal, but could not cobble together enough GOP votes to pass anything. That led Senate leaders to resume bipartisan negotiations, keeping both chambers’ Republicans at odds.
The Obama administration has said it cannot guarantee the ability to pay the nation’s bills past Thursday without a debt ceiling increase, and the partial government shutdown has entered its third week.
The Georgia GOP delegation includes two senators who have been involved in budget talks with Democrats for years, as well as several Republican House members who are part of the restive right wing that repeatedly has given House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, heartburn.
Three of those House Republicans are seeking to replace Republican Saxby Chambliss in the U.S. Senate after he retires next year, and they all are trying to position themselves to Chambliss’ right.
In recent days, Chambliss and fellow Georgia Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson have been increasingly outspoken in their distaste for the strategy pushed by House Republicans this fall — to go for the jugular on the new health care law in a shutdown standoff.
So far the push has resulted in an extended shutdown as Democrats have rejected any big changes to the law, while the possibility remains for minor concessions.
In a Friday CNN interview, Isakson called the push to tie funding the health law with a bill to keep the government open “a dumb idea.”
Chambliss told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that “folks got backed into a corner” by promising to strike a significant blow against the law.
“Now I think folks are starting to realize, well, that wasn’t a very strong position to be in, because we didn’t have leverage on that,” Chambliss said. “We had leverage on the debt ceiling, but we’re fast losing that.”
But several of Georgia’s House Republicans maintain that the defund push has strengthened the GOP.
“I don’t know that anyone ever thought we’d be in the position we are now in, such a strong position to make a positive change for America as it deals with funding levels, as it deals with Obamacare, as it deals with a lot of things,” U.S. Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger, one of the leading conservatives who forced Boehner’s hand on attacking the health law, said Tuesday.
Polls have shown Republicans taking a bigger public opinion hit than Democrats over the budget impasse, though Georgia GOP members say they are receiving encouragement at home to continue the fight.
Still, many are weary of budgeting on the brink. U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Coweta County Republican, opted for dry sarcasm when asked Tuesday how he was doing: “Living the dream, man.”
Westmoreland listed several Republican senators who might be willing to vote with Democrats, though he didn’t include the Georgians on his list.
“You’ve got six or more over there that if they’re ready to give up the ghost, ready to give up the ship, (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.) can pass it out of there,” Westmoreland said.
As for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Westmoreland said “he doesn’t have a lot of credibility over here” for his willingness to sometimes allow his troops to vote with Democrats.
As the House GOP is concerned about wobbly moderates, Senate Republicans are worried about the “no” caucus in the House.
Chambliss lamented the jam his close friend Boehner — the two frequently share a glass of merlot — finds himself in.
“Basically he’s got some hard-liners that are making it very difficult to get the government back open again, and much less the debt ceiling,” Chambliss said.
Talks between Reid and McConnell intensified over the weekend, but Republicans hit the brakes Tuesday when it appeared the House was ready to act — and on more favorable terms for the GOP.
But the Republican caucus twice rejected Boehner proposals on Tuesday to increase the debt ceiling and reopen the government because they did not seek enough concessions related to the health care law and the budget.
In a two-hour morning meeting, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, a Marietta Republican, was among those who spoke out against Boehner’s plan because it did not strip employer health insurance subsidies from congressional staff, as it did for members.
Gingrey and U.S. Reps. Jack Kingston of Savannah and Paul Broun of Athens are running to replace Chambliss.
Broun is among the most ardent members of the “no” caucus. In an interview with the AJC on Tuesday, Broun insisted that not raising the debt ceiling would not be so bad.
Broun called the Thursday deadline arbitrary and said he is unconcerned, even if the $16.7 trillion cap stays in place past Nov. 1, when a large chunk of troop payments and Social Security checks are due.
Broun said it would not be damaging because enough tax revenue would still be coming in to pay debt service and some other payments, though Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said prioritizing payments would be chaotic.
“Nothing catastrophic is going to happen unless the president and Harry Reid scare the bejesus out of investors and out of the market and out of the American citizens,” Broun said. “They’re just fearmongering, and if this fearmongering continues, something may happen, but it’s totally unnecessary.”
Economists agree that any threat to swift payments of Treasuries could undermine the world economy and cause U.S. borrowing costs to spike, while throwing the nation into a recession or worse.
“If we don’t increase the debt ceiling, we’ll have to decrease spending,” Broun said. “And that’s what we should be doing.”