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Posted at 7:25 AM ET, 02/ 8/2011

The GOP's nuclear option on spending

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

Republican leaders will soon be walking a tightrope when it comes to the looming spending debate.

But at least it looks like the public is on their side.

The GOP wants big spending cuts before it will agree to a budget or lift the debt ceiling above the current $14.3 billion -- two issues that will have to be taken up by March.

A recent Gallup poll showed the public narrowly preferred the GOP's proposal to return to 2008 spending levels rather than President Obama's proposed five-year freeze.

And a new poll conducted by automated pollster Pulse Opinion Research for The Hill newspaper shows that people largely agree. The poll found 62 percent of people oppose raising the debt ceiling, while just 27 percent support it. (The debt ceiling is how much Congress allows the country to go into debt, and current projections show the country will need to take on more debt by the end of March in order to continue functioning as it is now.)

That bodes well for a Republican Party that has vowed to get tough on spending. But the issue isn't quite so simple. It's about to get hairier for Republicans. And it all has to do with how far they are willing to go.

Before the situation in Egypt began to consume Washington, the looming battle over spending was set to become the issue du jour. And the top two Republicans in Congress were both pressed on the Sunday shows on, if they didn't get what they wanted, whether they would allow a government shutdown or the country to fall into default. Neither ruled it out.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was pressed three times during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" about whether a shutdown is on the table. All three times, McConnell deflected.

"We have two opportunities to do something important for the country on spending and debt; we ought not to miss this opportunity," McConnell said, referring to budget, which expires March 4, and the debt ceiling, which the country is likely to hit by the end of March. "The president ought to step up to the plate with us and tackle it together."

Likewise, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was pressed repeatedly on "Fox News Sunday" about whether he would let the country slip into default if the Republican majority in the House didn't get the spending cuts it wants.

"I don't think it's a question that is even on the table," Boehner said, noting that such a situation would be a disaster.

The interviews largely escaped the media's notice, but they were telling about the GOP's dilemma. The verbal gymnastics by the top Republicans in the House and Senate reflect a very difficult balancing act for the GOP.

They're making big pronouncements about cutting spending. And if they don't get what they want, their only recourse is to not pass a budget or not raise the debt ceiling. In either case, the results would be immediate and painful.

Make no mistake: this is one of the big early battles of the new bipartisan Congress. Republicans are promising a lot, and they may have to threaten something big in order to get it. Keep an eye on the rhetoric as we get closer to March.

Harman race handicapping: The death of California state senator Jenny Oropeza (D) last year means there's no clear frontrunner for Rep. Jane Harman's (D-Calif.) seat following Harman's announcement Monday that she will resign to take over the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who's considering a bid, would be the biggest name in the field. Close behind her is Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who entered the race Monday.

State Assemblywomen Betsy Butler and Bonnie Lowenthal, Assemblyman Warren Furutani, state Sen. Ted Lieu, State Controller John Chiang, and James Lau (who lost a close Assembly race last year) are all potential Democratic candidates for the seat, which is likely to stay in Democratic hands..

Then, of course, there's Marcy Winograd, a liberal activist who launched primary challenges against Harman in both 2006 and 2010.

On the GOP side, National Republicans will most likely push for County Commissioner Don Knabe. Tea party candidate Nathan Mintz, who came very close to beating Butler last year, is looking into a run.

Williams leads for nod to face Beshear: Kentucky state Senate President David Williams (R) has the inside track on the Republican nomination to face Gov. Steve Beshear (D) this year, according to a new poll conducted for Williams's campaign.

The poll, which was conducted by Got-Focus LLC, shows Williams leading by 37 points. Williams is at 47 percent, while Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw is at 10 percent and businessman Phil Moffett is at 9 percent.

Moffett is generally considered Williams's top competition, given his early tea party support. The primary is May 17.

Wadhams drops out of race for Colo. GOP chair: Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams has ended his campaign for another term as chairman, but he's not going quietly.

Wadhams's exit comes just as state Sen. Ted Harvey's campaign against him began picking up steam.

Wadhams has presided over some tough years for the state GOP, including a 2010 that saw Colorado Republicans lose both a governor's race and a Senate race and a 2008 in which they lost badly in a Senate race. Harvey announced his challenge to Wadhams last week.

Wadhams had some choice words on his way out.

"I have loved being chairman, but I'm tired of the nuts who have no grasp of what the state party's role is," Wadhams told the Denver Post.

Wadhams wrote in his letter to the state central committee: "I have tired of those who are obsessed with seeing conspiracies around every corner and who have terribly misguided notions of what the role of the state party is while saying 'uniting conservatives' is all that is needed to win competitive races across the state."


A spokesman for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) says he is "strongly considering" another run for president.

Could former Rep. Charles Djou (R-Hawaii) be considering a campaign against Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii)?

Minnesota state Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has been "very emphatic" that she won't challenge Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Bachmann is weighing a presidential run.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) reportedly has video of President Reagan endorsing him in his 1982 Senate campaign.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) sounds open to cutting funding for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."


"Moderate Democratic 'Blue Dogs' hope to bounce back" -- Michael Doyle, McClatchy

"Gingrich says Obama administration 'amateurish' on Egypt" -- Gabriella Schwarz

"Huntsman: Weak-kneed or rock-ribbed?" -- Katrina Trinko, National Review

"Is John Ensign a Political Zombie And He Just Doesn't Know It?" -- Jay Newton-Small, Time

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza  | February 8, 2011; 7:25 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: Hatch and Lugar blaze different paths as tea party stalks

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