The debt-ceiling battle between President Obama and the Republican leadership has dominated Washington this week and become a hot topic among GOP presidential hopefuls on the campaign trail. While they are unified in their criticism of the White House, there are differences among the candidates over what kind of deal – if any — should be struck.
Meeting with voters at a coffeehouse in Des Moines, Iowa, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) said it's an easy call.
"I'm opposed to raising the debt ceiling. I'm going to vote against it," he said. "I don't trust the promises because the promises are 10 years out. The only budget that counts is this year's budget. And they're not doing enough to cut."
No Tax Increases
Newt Gingrich, who as speaker in the 1990s negotiated a higher debt ceiling with President Clinton, urged the current Republican leaders to be tougher with the current Democratic president.
"I would not give the president a penny of debt ceiling that wasn't matched by spending cuts," he said to applause at a high school in Pella, Iowa.
Like most of his fellow candidates, Gingrich says there should be no tax increases included in the deficit-reduction deal enacted alongside the higher debt ceiling.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, says any tax increase would be a deal breaker.
"The United States federal government is not under-taxed," he said. "It spends too darn much."
Opposing Any Deal
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's first Iowa TV ad includes these lines: "I know that we can't keep spending the money we don't have. That's why I voted against the bailout, against the stimulus. I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling."
Bachmann's promise to vote no on increasing the debt ceiling comes without conditions. She says she opposes any deal the White House makes with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) — no matter what's in it. She defended the stand in an exchange with Fox News's Bill O'Reilly.
O'Reilly told Bachmann that he agrees with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner that it would be catastrophic to allow the U.S. to default.
"The dollar's going to plummet. Stocks are going to go crazy," O'Reilly said. "Down, down, down. I don't think Geithner's lying about this."
Bachmann responded: "We can pay off all of those obligations."
When asked if she thought Geithner was lying, she said: "He's wrong."
Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, says this issue fits well with Bachmann's basic campaign strategy.
"She's casting herself as the champion of the Republican wing of the Republican Party — someone who takes a hard line across the board," he said.
Compare Bachmann's approach to that of the GOP front-runner, Mitt Romney, who has made no public comments on the debt ceiling in more than a week. A representative for Romney said the candidate doesn't want to prejudge what may come out of negotiations.
"Mitt Romney doesn't want to do anything that would shake the confidence of the financial industry," said Pitney, the professor at Claremont McKenna College. "He's sensitive to those sentiments and again is thinking of himself as a potential nominee and not just someone running in the primaries but also in the fall of 2012 and doesn't want to hurt his appeal to independents."
As a group, though, the Republican candidates have seen the issue as an opportunity to portray President Obama as a big spender who lacks leadership skills on the economy. By pressuring their party leaders in Congress not to compromise with the White House, they have added another complication to an already-difficult political calculus.