WASHINGTON -- Sen. Pat Toomey, responding to an afternoon press conference by President Obama, said spending cuts should be the priority as the federal government approaches its borrowing limit, signaling that fiscally conservative Republicans are digging in to more firm positions than when they gave ground on taxes weeks ago while compromising on the fiscal cliff.
“The president's repeated insistence that raising the debt ceiling is necessary to only pay the bills we have already incurred is patently false,” Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, said in a statement released shortly after Obama met with reporters at the White House.
“Past spending has already been funded through a combination of taxes collected and previously issued debt. The president is calling for an increase in the debt ceiling in order to issue new debt which will pay for future spending. It is precisely this future spending which must be brought under control.”
Toomey issued his statement to counter Obama’s assertion that he would not negotiate or give ground over the debt ceiling. The president said Republicans “will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy.”
"America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up," Obama said, adding that a fight over the debt ceiling would be a “self-inflicted wound” to the national economy.
He has called for a "balanced" approach to debt reduction, including spending cuts but also more tax revenue, perhaps through closing tax loopholes.
But Toomey, a leading conservative voice on budget issues, has previously said that Republicans should be willing to accept a temporary, partial government shutdown over the debt ceiling if that’s what it takes to force Obama to cut spending.
"After all the middle class tax hikes in Obamacare and the tax increases he received at the end of last year, the president now wants still higher taxes to pay for even more spending," Toomey said. "This must not happen. The more we tax and spend, the more we diminish incentives to work, save and invest, and the weaker our economy will be."
He added, "Now is the time to focus on the real fiscal problem: overspending in Washington.
After allowing taxes to rise earlier this month in talks over the fiscal cliff, Toomey and other Republicans believe they have added leverage when it comes to the borrowing limit. Without new borrowing authority, the federal government is expected to run out of the money to pay its bills by mid February or early March.
Toomey saw the fiscal cliff deal as the best deal conservatives could hope for under the circumstances. On this new spending fight, though, he is signaling that the GOP intends to drive a much tougher bargain.