By Michael McAuliff
WASHINGTON — Republicans are willing to push President Obama to the wall with their budget-slashing bill to raise the debt ceiling because they are convinced he will capitulate on his veto threat and sign it, GOP lawmakers declared Thursday.
The Republican bill, which passed the House Tuesday and which Democrats warn will require even steeper cuts than the unpopular House budget plan that passed in the spring, is starting debate in the Senate.
And although the President has threatened to veto the measure and Senate Democrats say it is unacceptable, the group of Republicans from the House and Senate said it was Democrats’ only choice to avoid defaulting on America’s debt — and that Obama would take it to stave off catastrophe.
“This is the only viable plan, right now, that will do that,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) “And I will bet you a porterhouse steak that, if it lands on his desk, he’ll sign that puppy.”
As for Obama’s threat to reject the Tea Party-inspired “Cut, Cap and Balance” bill, Coburn suggested they were empty words.
“The president said he’d never take a short-term increase [of the debt limit],” Coburn said. “What did they say yesterday? He’d take a short-term increase. That’s how good his veto threat is.”
“He’s going to do what’s necessary to fix this country, and if he gets presented this bill, he’s gonna sign it,” the Oklahoman declared.
In fact, when Obama faced a similar watershed moment last year over the 2011 budget and extending unemployment insurance, he gave into GOP demands to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy for two years.
Coburn was not alone in predicting that the Democrats and their leader in the White House would roll over, in spite of their belief that the GOP plan will, as the new Democratic slogan sums up, “Cut, Cap and Kill Medicare.”
“The political reality in this place is subject to changing on a dime,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
“We have a bill, we have a solution,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). “It’s the only one that can be passed before the Aug. 2 deadline.”
Senate leaders have said the bill is a “non-starter,” and have been working on a fallback option with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Huffington Post reported Thursday that deal seemed to be falling apart in the House.
At the same time, the House was planning to take the weekend off, which would give even less time for a fail-safe option to be passed.
Shortly before the GOP news conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the floor to warn that the House taking time off and delaying work on the alternate proposal would all but guarantee a default, and the GOP would be to blame.
Republicans, however, said they were not worried about taking the heat.
“I’m willing to go out across this country, even if the polls are 70 percent against what we’re doing,” said Coburn.
DeMint predicted the public would swing the GOP’s way once the Senate started to debate the proposal. He said Americans were only more on the Democrats’ side for the moment because Obama had manipulated them as leaders held talks at the White House.
“Republicans may have made a mistake in working in good faith with the president in these secret negotiations, because it allowed him to get the upper hand,” DeMint said.
UPDATE: 4:45 p.m. — White House spokesman Jay Carney responded in his briefing that President Obama would stand behind his veto threat, and would be happy to accept an Oklahoma steak.
“We would take that bet,” Carney said. “And I would refrain from heading to the Safeway to buy A-1 because the President has very clearly vowed to veto a bill if such a bill were to arrive on his desk because it is a draconian measure that, in terms of its impact on dramatic cuts in Social Security and Medicare, would make the Ryan budget plan pale by comparison. It’s an irresponsible thing to do.”