Debt limit sets off political battle

Remember a few weeks ago when the government almost shut down over billions of dollars in cuts to federal spending? Well, now Boehner says the cuts will have to be in the trillions or House Republicans will refuse to lift the debt ceiling and the government will run out of money.

"Without significant spending cuts and changes in the way we spend the American people's money, there will be no increase in the debt limit," said Boehner.

That message is resonating well with Tea Party members like David Miller of Pleasanton.

"The way I see it is we've gotten in this situation by us spending trillions more than we have, so we need trillions types of cuts in order to get ourselves out of this situation," said Miller.

In the past couple of weeks, Republican lawmakers got an earful from voters unhappy about GOP proposals to cut Medicare and Medicaid. Senate Republicans have already said they won't go down that road, and Democratic organizations are playing up the Republicans' refusal to raise taxes on the rich.

Ads like this one, which asks, "Would you cut school nutrition programs or tax breaks for multimillionaires?" began playing this week in swing states, stepping up the pressure on Boehner and moderate Republicans in the House.

We asked Republican strategist Bill Whalen how Boehner satisfies the Tea Party without risking Republican seats in the next election.

"Well, I think the first problem is whatever he does is not going to be to the Tea Party's satisfaction, in part because I'm not sure the Tea Party has defined what exactly it is that satisfies them," said Whalen.

Whalen says Boehner is talking tough to satisfy the Tea Party, but he knows he can't deliver the cuts without the Senate and the White House going along, so he's left himself some wiggle room.

"He's not telling you how long the cuts would go for. He could be talking about $2 trillion in one year, he could be talking about $2 trillion in 20 years, for all we know," said Whalen. "Very long on soundbite, but very short on specifics."

Whalen says Boehner won't carry through on his threat to shut down the government, at least not for any length of time. But talking tough now does a couple of things. It sets down a marker -- a starting place for negotiations with the opposition -- and when the debt ceiling is raised he can go to the Tea Party and say, 'I tried, stick with me and we'll get those cuts when we win the Senate and the White House.'

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