WASHINGTON -- Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty urged congressional Republicans on Sunday to not vote to raise the debt ceiling when the matter is considered in the spring.
But in a sign of how knotted the debate has become, the likely presidential candidate suggested that lawmakers pass additional legislation to prevent the government from defaulting -- the exact purpose of raising the debt ceiling in the first place.
"They should not raise the debt ceiling," Pawlenty said. "I believe they should pass legislation that would allow them to sequence the spending as revenues come in to make sure they don't default. And then have a debate about what other spending could be reduced."
"That's right," he added, when asked again if Republicans should vote against raising the debt ceiling. "And to avoid the default I would take it one step further: send the president a piece of legislation that authorizes the federal government to sequence the paying of its bills so that we don't default on the debt obligations, and then we have a debate about how we reduce the other spending."
It's not entirely clear how Pawlenty's plan would work. The government spends more than it takes in, meaning that if it were simply "spending as revenues come in," it wouldn't be able to meet its obligations, including those on the debt.
An email seeking clarification wasn't immediately returned. But, it should be noted, this isn't the first time that Pawlenty has tried to find a bit of middle ground in a debate that doesn't have much. In an interview with the National Review last week, the former governor seemed to begrudgingly support the idea of raising the debt ceiling provided that it came after all spending cut options were exhausted first.
NRO: Should congressional Republicans raise the debt ceiling?
Pawlenty: I'm not for more debt, and if there's any way to avoid that, they should not raise the ceiling. We have to get spending under control, but we also have to make sure they don't wound the economy in the process. You've got a bunch of people holding our debt and the signal that it sends if you can't actually back it up. ... I think it's fine to say that we're not going to raise the debt ceiling, but you had better make sure you can live on that amount of money. If they can, they should. I think they should exhaust the possibility of cuts before raising the debt ceiling again.
UPDATE: In a follow-up interview with the Wall Street Journal, Pawlenty elaborated a bit on his debt-ceiling position
Mr. Pawlenty said Congress should pass legislation that would put interest and debt payments ahead of other federal spending and allow the federal government to pay its creditors as tax revenue flows in. With the surge of tax payments that come in between April and June, that would at least buy time to try to cut spending dramatically, he said.
"This debate about how we're going to restructure spending is inevitable. My view is, let's have it now," Mr. Pawlenty said in the Journal interview. "Let's call their bluff."