Debt Ceiling: The First Big "Showdown"?

Vince Bucci

Republicans and Democrats are breaking out some dramatic rhetoric in anticipation of a debate over the national debt.

In an interview with conservative magazine Human Events published today, conservative Sen. Jim DeMint said he wants to see a "big showdown" over the upcoming vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling, which currently stands at $14.3 trillion. One of the White House's top economists, meanwhile, calls such a threat "insanity."

If the Congress does not raise the limit, the nation would essentially default on its obligations. The government's debt now stands at close to $13.9 trillion, and it is expected to hit the ceiling this spring. Tea Party-affiliated Republicans, however, are intent on using the debt ceiling vote to make a point about government spending.

"We need to have a showdown at this point that we are not going to increase our debt ceiling anymore," DeMint said. "We are going to cut things necessary to stay within the current levels, which is over $14 trillion. This needs to be a big showdown."

Rep. Michele Bachmann, leader of the House Tea Party Caucus emphasized her opposition to raising the debt ceiling on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

"Congress has had a big party the last two years. They couldn't spend enough money. And now they're standing back, folding their arms, saying, oh, taunting us - 'How are you going to go ahead and solve this big spending crisis?'" Bachmann said about the Democrats. She said that she has started a petition on her website urging voters to tell their representatives to oppose raising the debt ceiling.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) even threatened to vote against raising the debt ceiling unless Social Security is reformed.

"This is an opportunity to make sure the government is changing its spending ways," he said. "I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long-term debt obligations starting with Social Security, a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means-tests for benefits."

Meanwhile, White House Council of Economic Advisers Chair Austan Goolsbee said on ABC's "This Week" that "the impact on the economy would be catastrophic" if Congress failed to raise the debt ceiling.

"I mean, that would be a worse financial economic crisis than anything we saw in 2008," he said. "As I say, that's not a game. I don't see why anybody's talking about playing chicken with the debt ceiling.

CBS News political analyst John Dickerson said on CBS' "The Early Show" that the GOP is essentially playing chicken -- hoping to use the vote as a bargaining chip to mollify Tea Partiers.

"As they battle over maybe getting some spending reduction in order to raise that limit, what Republicans will try and do is say to their Tea Party backers, 'Look, we had to raise the debt limit it would have been catastrophic not to, but we got spending reductions as part of a deal to do so,'" Dickerson said. "And they'll just have to hope the spending reductions are good enough for their Tea Party supporters."

Watch John Dickerson discuss the upcoming Congress: