Republican Senate candidates are skittish on Boehner deficit plan

None of the four Republican House members who are likely running for Senate next year support House Speaker John Boehner's (Ohio) plan for a short-term increase in the debt ceiling.

Reps. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) are firm nos, according to The Hill's Whip List, while Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he "can't support the current bill." Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) has not yet indicated which way he will vote.

Akin faces a potentially tough primary challenge from former Missouri State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, and can't afford to give her an opening to run at him from the right. They each hope to be the nominee against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), but risk running too far to the right in the primary to win the swing state.

Both parties are on the attack over the issue. Missouri Democratic Party spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki pointed out that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had described the "cut, cap and balance" approach to raising the debt ceiling favored by both Akin and Steelman "bizarre" and "foolish," and ripped them for their positions.

"If there were any questions whether Sarah Steelman and Todd Akin are too extreme for Missouri’s middle class families, this should remove all doubt," said Legacki in a statement. "Rather than supporting commonsense ideas and reasonable compromise, Steelman and Akin would rather play chicken with the economy to score political points. That’s not leadership, that’s recklessness."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee also attacked McCaskill for opposing Boehner's plan. "In yet another sign that she’s prepared to put the reelection efforts of herself and President Obama ahead of avoiding the federal government defaulting on its debt for the first time in U.S. history, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined with her liberal party leaders last night in signing a letter announcing her firm opposition to the two-step plan offered by House Speaker John Boehner which will be voted on by the House later today," NRSC communications director Brian Walsh wrote in an email Thursday morning.

Senate race politics could also be playing a part in other House members' decisions. Chaffetz is all but certain to challenge longtime incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) for the Republican nomination and is counting on strong Tea Party support, which he would likely lose if he backed Boehner's plan.

Flake has long been a crusader for fiscal conservatism, but has a political reason to oppose the plan as well: he has already lost favor with some Arizona conservatives because of past centrist votes in immigration, and while he doesn't yet have a primary challenger, a vote for this plan could invite one.

Rehberg, challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), hails from a Republican-leaning but populist state, and was one of four Republicans to vote against the GOP budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that would have privatized Medicare.

The four also don't have to fear Boehner's wrath in the same way that other Republican House members do, since they won't be around much longer, meaning that the GOP leadership can't leverage their votes in the same way it could others.

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