Washington Watch: Sides line up in government shutdown fight

The end of the month is looming with a partial government shutdown at risk after the U.S. House approved Friday a needed budget stopgap that defunded “Obamacare.”

Some conservatives have argued in favor of drawing a stronger line in the sand on the need to raise the federal debt limit in mid-October, rather than risk being blamed for a potential government shutdown.

After all, the Democratic-controlled Senate appears likely to have the votes needed to strip out the “defund” language.

The Senate would then send the “clean” budget resolution back to the House, where Republicans would have to decide whether to approve the bill or not.

With the need to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, Republicans can — as they did in 2011 — opt to hold strong and attempt to force President Barack Obama to make more concessions on spending cuts or even delay the Affordable Care Act, the latter of which the president has repeatedly said he refuses to consider.

Not increasing the debt limit would mean the government defaults on its bills, likely hitting the economy on Wall Street and potential harming the nation’s credit rating.

Obama and the White House seem much more concerned about the debt limit fight.

In a speech Friday, Obama harped more on the need not to default on the debt limit, rather than the budget stopgap fight.

In White House briefings with reporters last week, officials also focused much more on the debt debate.

Someone like U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, who has steadfastly opposed the GOP taking measures to cause a government shutdown, said Thursday that he supports using the debt ceiling fight and the continuation of the sequester budget cuts as “leverage” for Republicans to get all the concessions they can.

So that is why Obama focused Friday on explaining the need to keep the government paying its bills.

The federal government has increased the debt limit about 40 times dating back to President Ronald Reagan.

And while the issue has been fought during past presidencies, the level of Republicans “playing chicken” has reached “unprecedented” levels, according to the White House.

“I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States,” Obama said.

The president also made multiple comparisons to try to get his point across, comparing a government default to a “banana republic.”

“We don’t run out on our tab,” Obama said, making a dine-and-dash restaurant reference.

“Once you’ve bought the truck, you can’t say you’re saving money by not paying your bills,” he added, making a car payment comparison.

“If we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we’re deadbeats,” he said. “… We will send our economy into a tailspin.”

Regardless of who is right or wrong on the matter, Obama’s repeated emphasis of an issue points to legitimate concern about the matter.

He criticized the potential government shutdown and said Republicans “don’t have to threaten to blow the whole thing up because you don’t get your way.”

But he honed in more strongly on the upcoming debt ceiling fight, even if other politicians and the national media are currently more focused on the shutdown drama.

Although they’re two separate issues, the budget stopgap and the debt ceiling are intertwined because of their timing. As such, they represent a two-pronged approach for Republicans to leverage everything they can.

The questions, though, are which party will blink first — or whether either side will blink at all.

The effort to defund Obamacare in the budget stopgap likely will be answered by the end of the month.

But if the defund effort fails, that might just mean the GOP is doubling down on the debt ceiling.

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@ theadvocate.com