The debate already is forming about what path Republicans elected last week on promises of cutting federal spending will take when the new Congress convenes in January: not raise the ceiling and risk a fiscal crisis or raise the ceiling and risk voter ire, ABC reported Monday.
"One key test Republicans will face as early as this spring will be whether to bail out career politicians who have failed to budget by increasing the national debt limit, or instead force them to cut spending," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wrote in a Washington Examiner commentary last week. "If Republicans vote to raise the debt without insisting on spending cuts, whatever credibility we may have will be gone."
Speaker-apparent Rep. John Boehner of Ohio told ABC "multiple options" are available for dealing with the debt limit.
"Increasing the debt limit allows our government to meet its obligations," Boehner said "And I think that there are multiple options for how you deal with it. But for our team, I think we're going to have to demonstrate that we've got to have reductions in spending. The government's spending more than what we bring in. We can't afford it."
While not sure when the debt-limit question may be raised, Boehner said, "We'll be ready to meet our obligations."
Right now, observers said, it appears Congress will have to raise the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling early next year. The national debt is above $13.7 trillion.
The debate will point up the division within the Republican Party, said Stan Collender, founder of the Capital Gains and Games blog and a former staffer for the House and Senate budget committees.
"The real tension won't be between Republicans and Democrats" Collender told ABC News. "It'll be between Republicans and Republicans."