Sen. Toomey: GOP should risk shutdown to force spending cuts in debt-limit fight

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Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on Wednesday called for Republicans to be ready to shut down the government to gain spending cuts in exchange for raising the nation’s debt-limit.

"We Republicans need to be willing to tolerate a temporary, partial government shutdown," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Toomey’s comments come after the House and Senate passed a bill extending middle-class tax rates and avoiding January’s rate increases for most taxpayers.

But the measure which also delays the sequestration cuts until March faced strong opposition from House Republicans who said it failed to address spending cuts. Both sides are now gearing up for battles over the debt-limit, which Toomey said would provide the GOP the leverage needed to force significant deficit reduction.

The Treasury said Monday that the U.S. had reached its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit. Secretary Geithner said the department had begun instituting “extraordinary measures” to avoid default. 

Toomey said that markets would suffer less from the "temporary disruption" of a government shutdown than from Washington showing an unwillingness to tackle its deficit woes.

President Obama has already warned Republicans, though, that he will not tolerate another extended debate over the debt ceiling. The negotiations over increasing the debt ceiling in summer 2011 resulted in an extended standoff between Obama and Republicans, a threat of a government shutdown, and a credit downgrade for the country. Obama said he would not allow that to happen again.

“While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed,” he said on Tuesday night. 

“If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic — far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff,” Obama added.

Toomey disagreed with Obama's argument that the debt ceiling is about paying past debts.

"It's to enable him to engage in the future spending that he wants," he said.

Toomey, who voted for the tax legislation passed New Year’s Day by the House and Senate, also responded to criticism from those on the right who saw the vote as a capitulation by GOP lawmakers to the president. 

The measure indefinitely extends the expiring Bush-era tax rates on annual family income up to $450,000, and for individuals up to a $400,000 cut off. It also lifts the top capital gains and dividends rates to 20 percent, extends unemployment benefits for a year, and delays for two months the automatic spending cuts triggered by the sequestering process. 

Democrats widely supported the legislation after a personal appeal by Biden but many Republicans continued to resist raising tax rates on any Americans, and also expressed dismay that the deal does not contain spending cuts.

It passed with only 85 Republican votes in the House, but all except five Republican Senators voted for it.

Conservative RedState blogger Erick Erickson on Tuesday called out Toomey by name, along with his GOP colleagues Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.), writing they should be "ashamed" of their votes for the bill, which was negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Erickson added that any member of Congress who believes they have better leverage over Obama in the upcoming debt-ceiling debate "is fooling themselves to avoid having to realize what a fool they are."

Toomey said Republicans' backs were "up again the wall" on the bill, which sought to undo the tax rate hikes which went into effect on Jan. 1. 

"We spared as many Americans as we possibly could from a tax increase," he argued on MSNBC, calling it a "very unusual situation" where Congress was scrambling to halt laws already on the books.