Tea party faces unusual opponent in national debt limit battle
Usually natural allies, the tea party and the business lobby are at odds over if and how to raise the national debt limit.
With Monday’s bond sale, the US Treasury maxed out on the current national debt ceiling limit of $14.294 trillion, stepping up pressure on Congress to raise the debt limit by Aug. 2, when Treasury officials estimate that funds will run out.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The prospect of a government default is sharpening lines of demarcation between Washington's business establishment, which wants Congress to simply raise the debt limit, and many tea party-backed lawmakers, who don't.
It's an uncomfortable schism for the two sides, and it has the powerful US Chamber of Commerce and other big business interests working overtime to try to come to terms with those lawmakers – led by the GOP freshmen and other tea party politicians – disinclined to raise the debt limit absent strong curbs on future spending.
After all, the two are usually allies on legislative matters. The tea party movement calls for lower taxes and less regulation – interests shared by corporate America. Tea party candidates called for defunding President Obama's health-care reform on grounds that it creates uncertainty for businesses and stifles job creation. Tea party supporters are also more likely to back private enterprise – and trust it to benefit the nation – than are most Americans, polls show.
But a rift over the debt ceiling sets up a deeper clash between these two primarily Republican camps. The tea party is all about chopping the size and scope of government, something that doesn't sit all that well with businesses that depend on government spending and contracts – especially if it means taking the country to the brink of a default over the national debt.
The White House hopes, of course, to turn this situation to its advantage. Mr. Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are reaching out to top business leaders to help them make their case for a prompt congressional vote to raise the debt limit, before international creditors get anxious. Besides the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Financial Services Forum have been talking since January with the House freshman class to urge compromise.