Republicans should prepare for a "showdown" with President Obama and congressional Democrats over raising the debt ceiling, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said Monday.
DeMint, a de-facto leader of Senate conservatives and many Tea Party senators, called for an all-out battle early this year, when Congress will face a tough vote to legally authorize the government to take on more debt.
Republicans have pointed to that impending vote as a major flashpoint in the debate over spending and deficits this year. The new GOP House that will be sworn in Wednesday is eager to make spending cuts, and budget hawks hope to use the vote on the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip to extract agreements from the White House to cut spending.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has said he's trying to build a bipartisan bloc to accomplish just that, while Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, has wondered what Republicans would "get in exchange" for raising the debt ceiling.
The Obama administration has already begun to try to frame the debate over raising the debt ceiling by warning of the seriousness of the economic situation that would result if Congress failed to authorized the increased borrowing.
"If we get to the point where you've damaged the full faith and credit of the United States, that would be the first default in history caused purely by insanity," Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee said on Sunday on ABC.
DeMint has exhibited a willingness in the past to use the Senate's procedural rules and his privileges as a lawmaker to accomplish his aims. When he threatened to force a reading of a $1.1 trillion omnibus bill during the closing days of the lame-duck Congress, Democrats withdrew the bill and replaced it with a more modest continuing resolution.
That continuing resolution is set to expire in March, setting up a major fight over spending in the first few months of this year. DeMint said he'd favor institutional reforms at that point that would constrain Congress's ability to spend.
"The first thing we have to do is put in place a balanced budget amendment or something very similar that will force us to make the hard decisions," he said. "No one is willing to say we need to cut this, this and that. If you do, you might get 10 votes in the Senate. So we have to have an institutional discipline that forces us to say, okay, this is what we've got to do."