The Republicans surged to majority status in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2010 thanks in large part to the support of many independent voters who shifted their allegiance to the GOP. But the party's candidates risk losing that support, and also losing the voter intensity and enthusiasm they would otherwise likely enjoy in November 2012, if congressional Republicans sign on to any legislative scheme that raises the federal debt ceiling. It's just that simple.
Polls indicate that most of those who identify themselves as either Republican or independent voters say definitively that they don't want the debt ceiling raised, regardless of what alleged remedy might be used to justify such action. Yes, they have heard the dire warnings in recent days of potential economic disaster, unpaid Social Security benefits and even elimination of their own personal credit cards if the debt ceiling isn't raised. They don't care because they don't trust these doomsday statements.
Specifically, they recall the TARP program. That's the congressional action that not only "saved" banks and automakers, but led just a few years later to record profits for those institutions. That's money that never reached the public.
Too many people still can't get a loan. Others are hounded by credit card companies if they are a day late in paying their bills. And Americans are still paying hefty prices for cars and trucks that must be fueled by increasingly expensive gasoline.
These voters simply don't believe the assurances of President Obama, particularly in light of his stimulus program that promised the nation an 8 percent unemployment rate that hasn't materialized.
The GOP leadership in the House has slowly come to realize that any deal they agree to that doesn't include major budget cuts -- which by necessity would include cuts to entitlement programs -- will result in a stunning rebuke from conservative and independent voters. After all, those voters put the Republicans in charge in large part to avoid slick compromise deals and halfhearted efforts to rein in spending.
But the GOP leadership in the Senate seems even now not get it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's proposal to give Obama the authority to raise the ceiling is a nonstarter with most conservative Republicans. It smacks of game-playing and shirking the duty of making tough choices.
Senators who try to play the deal-making heroes on this one will destroy not only their own credibility, but that of the entire Republican Party. Instead, they must remind Americans that the nation would not be facing this crisis were it not for the Obama administration's unbridled spending.
I completely understand what is at stake here. If the United States fails to raise its debt ceiling by Aug. 2, we face a serious devaluation of the dollar across the globe, a dire threat to the nation's overall financial status and possibly even an inability to pay entitlement benefits for seniors, and for Medicaid and welfare recipients. Of course, all this is theoretical.
The reality is that a majority of Americans are prepared for a few days of pain to prove to the world that we can and will find a way to control our reckless spending. Polling conducted earlier this year indicates that a majority of Republicans and independents would support a government shutdown akin to those of late 1995 and early 1996.
Why? Because they've adopted as their own the concept put forth in the early days of the Obama presidency by then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel -- namely, that one can take advantage of a crisis and put it to maximum use in achieving bigger and broader aims.
But Emanuel's crisis-exploitation formula was to swiftly spend boatloads of money. The Republicans' counter-solution should be to take advantage of the government's fiscal crisis by allowing the nation to suffer for a few days while Congress and the president sober up from the past two years of spending and make the tough cuts in spending that must be made.
There is another hidden reason why most Americans are willing to endure the pain of bumping up against our nation's debt ceiling. They see their own financial circumstances as being so bad that they don't see a downside to drastic action to stem federal spending -- especially if standing firm, at least for a while, will make those who profited from prior costly bailouts and stimulus efforts now have to share in the financial pain being felt by so many Americans.