The appetite for a government shutdown is growing among Republicans, who shied away from one during the debt and spending fights in the last Congress but now say one may be needed.
Several high-profile senators have begun laying the groundwork for a shutdown, saying it may be necessary in order to restore “fiscal sanity” on the federal budget.
“I think the last time we saw a shutdown, the fact that Republicans were willing to stand together — on fiscally conservative principles — ended up producing a result that was responsible and that benefited the country and that ultimately produced enormous economic growth,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, a freshman Republican from Texas.
Fellow Texan Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber, wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle on Friday saying a partial shutdown may be needed to show that Congress is serious about cutting spending.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, stopped short of endorsing the idea Sunday but didn’t rule it out, either. Instead, he called it a “shame” that Republicans are forced to consider such tactics in order to gain Democratic cooperation on spending cuts.
“None of us like using these situations like the sequester or the debt ceiling or operation of government to try to engage the president to deal with this,” Mr. McConnell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s a shame we have to use whatever leverage we have in Congress to get the president to deal with the biggest problem of our time, and that’s our excessive spending.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said shutting down the government would be preferable to picking a fight on the debt ceiling, another tool in the Republican arsenal.
Mr. Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, also noted that he opted to shutter the federal government twice in the 1990s during budget negotiations with President Clinton, paving the way for a balanced budget and welfare reform.
“I helped close the government twice. It actually worked,” Mr. Gingrich said on “Meet the Press.” “Bill Clinton came in and said, ‘The era of big government is over’ after two closures, not before.”
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, also said members of his party need to be ready “to tolerate a temporary, partial government shutdown.”
He told MSNBC last week that it could be disruptive, but it’s better than accepting ever-increasing spending.
After losing on most of their demands in last week’s tax deal, which included minuscule spending cuts, congressional Republicans have warned that they will not cave again.
The upcoming budget fights include another increase in the government’s debt limit, due within two or three months, and another battle over automatic spending cuts, due by March 1. A month after that, the government’s funding runs out and must be renewed for the next six months.
Missing the debt deadline would force the government to cut about 40 percent of services immediately, and missing the six-month spending deal would mean an even broader shutdown.
The automatic spending cuts, or sequesters, would impose nearly $90 billion in immediate cuts.
Mr. Cornyn said Republicans’ willingness to impose a partial shutdown should be a warning to President Obama, who has said he will not negotiate changes to spending with Republicans in exchange for another increase in the government’s borrowing ability.
But even if he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling, Mr. Obama will be unable to avoid negotiations over the annual spending bills, which expire March 31.
In the wake of the tax fight, some analysts have said Mr. Obama now has a weaker hand because the tax-rate issue is off the table and the fight now is on Republican issues of spending and debt.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Friday that she thinks Mr. Obama holds a strong hand after the debt fight.
She also said Mr. Obama should consider bypassing the debt fight altogether and claim the constitutional ability to make good on the debt regardless of the ceiling set by Congress.
“I would do it in a second,” she told reporters.
House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, talking with fellow Republicans behind closed doors Friday morning, didn’t go as far as his Senate colleagues in warning of a shutdown, but he did say Mr. Obama will have to talk spending cuts in exchange for a debt limit deal, according to a source in the room.
“The debate is already under way,” he said.
• Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.
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Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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