By Philip Elliott, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — It's easy for conservative politicians to say: Cut spending, no matter what. Don't let the government borrow any more. Shut it down if you have to.
While the cast of potential White House contenders tells Congress to get tough, drawing lines in the sand is risky for lawmakers who have to live with the consequences.
Many remember what happened more than two years ago when House conservatives bolted from their Republican president and leadership to defeat a $700 billion rescue bill for the nation's financial system. The Dow Jones industrials plunged 777 points, the most ever for a single day. Lawmakers had second thoughts, and four days later 58 of them, including 25 Republicans, switched sides to pass it.
Many Republicans paid a huge political price, losing re-election last year as furious tea partyers made how lawmakers voted on the bank bailout the single biggest litmus test of their conservatism.
However dangerous such brinksmanship is for lawmakers — and the country — it offers White House hopefuls the opportunity to criticize Washington spending while portraying themselves as the commonsense alternatives.
"We had a partial government shutdown in Minnesota and the world didn't come to an end," former Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in a recent interview. "And so you don't want to have that be your goal. But sometimes, when it's appropriate and you're standing on the right principles, there needs to be strong conviction and sometimes a showdown."
Other would-be White House contenders are railing against a Congress poised to pile on new debt, calling it irresponsible and a symptom of an out-of-touch Washington. As they watch, leaders of the two parties accuse each other of trying to bring about a government shutdown that they can then blame on one another.