MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
So the debt ceiling battle between the president and Republican leadership has dominated Washington recently. It's also a hot topic for GOP presidential hopefuls out on the campaign trail. They are united in their criticism of the White House. But there are differences among the candidates over what kind of deal should be struck, if any.
NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: The candidates are making their usual rounds of diners and Rotary clubs, and opening campaign offices and doing interviews. And there's lots of talk about the debt ceiling.
For Congressman Ron Paul, meeting with voters at a coffee house in Des Moines, it's an easy call.
Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas; Presidential Candidate): I'm opposed to raising the debt ceiling. I'm going to vote against it. I don't trust the promises because the promises are 10 years out. The only budget that counts is this year's budget. And they're not doing enough to cut.
GONYEA: Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich, who as Speaker of the House negotiated a higher debt ceiling with President Bill Clinton back in the 1990s, urged the current Republican leaders to be tougher with the current Democratic president. Here he is, speaking at a high school in Pella, Iowa.
Mr. NEWT GINGRICH (Republican Presidential Candidate): I would not give the President a penny of debt ceiling that wasn't matched by spending cuts.
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GONYEA: Like most of his fellow candidates, Gingrich says there should be no tax increases included in the deficit reduction deal enacted alongside the higher debt ceiling. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, says any tax increase would be a deal breaker.
(Soundbite of television segment, "Meet the Press")
Mr. DAVID GREGORY (Host, "Meet the Press"): Alright, but are you saying would you be open to any revenue increases if it would help you get a deal on the scale of trillions of dollars of spending cuts?
Mr. TIM PAWLENTY (Former Minnesota Governor: The United States federal government is not under-taxed. It spends too darn much.
Mr. GREGORY: So your answer is no, you would not entertain that.
Mr. PAWLENTY: That's, that's right. We shouldn't raise taxes.
GONYEA: And Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's first Iowa TV ad includes this line.
(Soundbite of television ad)
Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Minnesota, Republican): I know that we can't keep spending money that we don't have. That's why I fought against the wasteful bailout, against the stimulus. I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling.
GONYEA: Bachmann's promise to vote no on increasing the debt ceiling comes without any conditions. She says she opposes any deal the White House makes with Speaker John Boehner, no matter what's in it, a stand that she defended in this exchange with Fox News's Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly told Bachmann that he agrees with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner that it would be catastrophic to allow the US to default.
Mr. BILL O'REILLY (Fox News): The dollar's gonna plummet. Stocks are gonna go crazy. Down, down, down, down. I don't think Geithner's lying about this.
Representative BACHMANN: Bill, we can pay off all of those obligations.
Mr. O'REILLY: He says we can't.
Representative BACHMANN: We can.
Mr. O'REILLY: Is he lying?
Representative BACHMANN: Well, he's wrong. He's wrong. He's wrong.
GONYEA: Jack Pitney, a professor of Government at Clairmont McKenna College, says this issue fits well with Bachmann's basic campaign strategy.
JACK PITNEY (Government Professor at Clairmont McKenna College): She's casting herself as the champion of the Republican wing of the Republican Party, somebody who takes a hard line across the board.
GONYEA: Compare Bachmann's approach to that of the GOP front runner Mitt Romney, who's made no public comments on the debt ceiling in more than a week. A Romney spokesperson says the candidate doesn't want to pre-judge what may come out of negotiations. Again, Jack Pitney:
PITNEY: Mitt Romney doesn't want to say or do anything that would shake the confidence of the financial community. He's particularly sensitive to those sentiments, and again he's thinking of himself as a potential nominee, not just somebody running in the primaries but somebody running in the fall of 2012 and doesn't want to spoil his chances appealing to independents.
GONYEA: As a group though, the Republican candidates have seen the issue as an opportunity to portray President Obama as a big spender who lacks leadership skills on the economy. And by pressuring their party leaders in Congress not to compromise with the White House, they have added another complication to an already difficult political calculus.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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