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GOP 'ready to dig in' on debt ceiling

The House of Representatives has passed a clean, short-term extension of the debt ceiling, a move designed to force responsible action by Democrats and set the table for real spending cuts and reforms in a few months.

Some conservative critics aren’t so sure, suggesting this tactic gives President Obama what he wants for three months but doesn’t give the GOP any additional leverage when the debate resumes.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has been frustrated by the last-minute debt deals over the past couple of years and told WND he understands why some are skeptical over the latest strategy by Republican leaders.

King said he has a major reservation over the legislation, but his hesitation has nothing to do with the short-term extension of the debt ceiling. He said that approach makes a lot of sense.

“It would be easy to say it kicks the can down the road,” King said. “I could maybe step in on that and pile on, but I really don’t think that’s the intention at all this time. The effort is to sequence these things. If we do not and the debt ceiling pushes on us and it gets delayed, it pushes us up against the sequestration requirement that we have.”

Sequestration is the package of defense and entitlement cuts that was mandated by law after the failure of the 2011 super-committee to find common ground in addressing the debt crisis.

“The sequestration and the debt ceiling could get pushed into the continuing resolution, which is a hard shutdown of government March 27,” said King. “Those things need to be in a different order. We need to deal with this debt ceiling when we can actually let the leverage of the debt ceiling work in our favor rather than against us. So I give leadership credit for calculating that part.”

The part of the bill that bothers King is the demand that lawmakers in the House and Senate forfeit their pay until their chamber actually produces a budget. The move is clearly aimed at the Democratic-led Senate, which has not produced a budget since 2009. King likes the idea in principle but says it’s simply unconstitutional.

“I’d like to do that. I favor it from a policy standpoint, but when I go back and read the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, it reads, ‘No law, varying the compensation for the services of the senators and representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened,’ he said. “It’s hard to argue that varying the pay does not include freezing it for as much as 20 months. I’m begging them to respect the Constitution and find a way to get the same thing done without violating our oath of office.

“I haven’t dug in hard against it. I want somebody to give me another argument, but I don’t want to have to suspend my lifetime of saying the Constitution means what it says and it means what it was understood to mean at the time of ratification. The language is clear in the 27th Amendment in my view.”

King also explained why he believes delaying the debt-ceiling fight until after the continuing resolution is resolved offers his party much more leverage in forcing spending cuts and entitlement reforms.

“The bottom line is this. Our leadership, after the election in 2010, made it clear they were not going to allow the government to be shut down. I think by now they understand if you preclude a potential shutdown, whether it be initiated by the Senate, the president or in the unlikely event the House, if you take those off the table we don’t have leverage,” said King, who says leadership is now ready to stare down the Senate and President Obama on these key issues.

“That becomes a different posture and I think we can get there,” said King. “I know the track record over the previous Congress doesn’t say so, but I’m listening to the tone and the words and looking at the body language, and I’m encouraged that there are a lot of Republicans that are going to dig in. I think this freshman class appears to be pretty strong here, too.”

King is confident that the pay threat would motivate the Senate Democrats to move on a budget as well. He said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has already indicated Democrats are receptive to that.

“That tells me they’re already starting to accommodate,” he said. “(Schumer’s) comment was that they were producing a budget in secret. Now they’re getting ready to talk about it publicly.”