BY JOHN FUND – Republican House members meeting at their policy retreat in Baltimore over the weekend spent a lot of time worrying about how to handle raising the debt ceiling sometime in March.

Many of the 87 freshmen who had campaigned against voting for more government debt were torn. Some cited a new CBS poll that showed 71% of the American people opposed to a rise in the debt ceiling.

But former Texas Senator Phil Gramm told the new lawmakers over breakfast Friday that sometimes governing involved tough votes, and one is likely to be a vote for more debt. Mr. Gramm said that they could extract concessions from the White House on spending by putting a short leash on any debt extension — perhaps only six months — and then trying to attach more conditions each time the ceiling is raised.

Republicans got conflicting advice from likely presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. The former Minnesota governor told The Wall Street Journal that GOP leaders were wrong to acknowledge that raising the debt limit is unavoidable.

“This debate about how we’re going to restructure spending is inevitable,” Mr. Pawlenty said. “My view is, let’s have it now. Let’s call their bluff.” He called on Congress to pass legislation that would prioritize paying the federal government’s debt obligations over other federal spending. By doing that a debt limit increase could be delayed until later in the year.

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