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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.

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"Our members are very concerned about the deficit and the debt. They absolutely want Congress to figure out these issues," says chief executive officer and president Dan Danner, noting that 25 NFIB members were elected to Congress in 2010. "Certainly, small-business owners on Main Street, with 10 or 15 employees, are a lot different than General Motors or General Electric. The stimulus has not worked for small business."

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Counting the votes

Getting an accurate count of where lawmakers stand on the debt ceiling is fast becoming a cottage industry in Washington. The US Chamber of Commerce cites estimates that no more than 27 GOP House freshmen are committed to voting against raising the debt limit, period. Budget analyst Stanley Collender of Qorvis Communications writes that "there could be at least 80 GOP votes against raising it, no matter what the impact might be on interest rates, stock prices, and the economy."

Conservative groups aim to hold Republican lawmakers to their campaign pledges to stand firm on the debt ceiling. "The debt ceiling ... is a crisis that Republicans should not waste," says former Rep. Chris Chocola, an Indiana Republican who is now president of the Club for Growth, best known for financing primary challengers to Republicans viewed as not conservative enough. "They need to change the fundamental rules – and it needs to be more than spending cuts," he says.

The most efficient way to rein in government spending, he adds, is a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, along the lines proposed by freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah, a member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus. "This will be the most important vote they take in this Congress," says Mr. Chocola.

In the Senate, all 47 Republicans are committed to a balanced budget amendment, along with some Democrats – but probably not enough to get the required 66 votes.

"The Chamber of Commerce has a legitimate point of view.... But we should not be so eager to jump on the bandwagon that bad things will happen if we don't raise the debt limit without asking what bad things will happen if we do raise it," says Senator Lee. "If we raise the debt ceiling, we have to ask what we are doing to make sure we do not face this problem again."

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