Debt ceiling chicken a game worth playing 

The best deal Republicans can get on the debt ceiling is to raise it in exchange for massive cuts to discretionary spending and/or some entitlement reforms. This is simply a fact. Even if Congress voted today to reduce discretionary spending to zero, we would still need to raise the debt ceiling or else default.

Unfortunately, some conservatives have helped create unrealistic expectations about this question, and Republicans could well suffer in the next election as a result.

The Tarrance Group survey on the debt ceiling found that a plurality of Americans (48 percent) understand that it must be raised in the end. But this is a relatively narrow plurality, and two key groups are most strongly opposed to any increase whatsoever -- self-identified Republican voters and Hispanics. Independents aren't too keen on the idea, either:

A majority of Republicans (54%) and a plurality of Independents (44%) indicate that they are opposed to any option for raising the debt ceiling.  Hispanic/Latino voters are also crystallized against any construct to raise the debt ceiling, with fully 52% of Hispanic/Latino voters indicating they are opposed to any form of increase in the debt ceiling.

When Republicans vote to raise the debt ceiling -- as they must eventually -- they could well suffer with their base. Although smaller demographics offer less reliable polling results, the opposition to a debt ceiling increase by Hispanic voters is also troubling. It could give them one more reason not to trust the GOP.

On the other hand, the poll is heartening insofar as it finds that by a two-to-one margin, voters are more concerned that Congress will cut too little than they are concerned about draconian budget cuts. The lesson for the Republicans is that they are going to pay a price for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling at all, and so they must be as ambitious as possible with their demands for spending cuts. They should demand an end to several agencies, a zeroing out of many subsidies, and an increase in oil and gas leasing activity, which brings more revenue to the government.

It will be a dangerous game of chicken, but it is one well worth playing both for political reasons and for the nation's future.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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