Sen. John Cornyn

In preparation for the next fight over the debt ceiling, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is publicly downplaying the potential risk of the federal government going over its debt limit. In a new Op-Ed Cornyn compared going over the debt limit to only a partial government shutdown. From Cornyn:

Over the next few months, we will reach deadlines related to the debt ceiling, the sequester and the continuing appropriations resolution that has funded federal operations since October. If history is any guide, President Obama won’t see fit to engage congressional Republicans until the 11th hour. In fact, he has already signaled an unwillingness to negotiate over the debt ceiling. This is unacceptable. The president should immediately put forward a plan that addresses these deadlines, and he should launch serious, transparent budget negotiations.

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The coming deadlines will be the next flashpoints in our ongoing fight to bring fiscal sanity to Washington. It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain. President Obama needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan to avoid it immediately.

This language mirrors what we have also been hearing from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who recently referred to going over the debt limit as a “temporary, partial government shutdown.” Expect more Republicans to start referring to going over the debt limit in these rather harmless terms.

Going over the debt limit would technically be a default event and significantly more serious than just a partial government shutdown, but the choice of this language by prominent Republicans is very important. Republicans only have leverage in the debt limit fight if they appear willing to actually go over the limit. There is no hostage negotiation unless it seems like the hostage might be harmed. By claiming they don’t see it has a huge deal, these Republican senators are trying to make people think they would be willing to pull the trigger.

The debt ceiling fight could become a game of chicken and they know it is the side that seems less concerned that normally wins.