Political Insider

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David Perdue's debt ceiling two-step

WASHINGTON -- In David Perdue's new ad thwacking Jack Kingston in the Republican U.S. Senate runoff, the announcer ominously informs us that Kingston "voted to raise the debt ceiling repeatedly, adding trillions to the national debt."

Debt ceiling attacks are powerful and predictable, as the AJC reported in detail in October, but what's interesting about this dig is Perdue has repeatedly warned against breaching the debt ceiling.

In the video above, shot by a tracker in December and passed along to us Wednesday, Perdue tells the crowd:

"We have two things the rest of the world does not have. We have a $16 trillion economy. It's bigger than the next five economies in the world. And we have the good faith and credit of the United States of America.

"And we've been trying to kill both of them this year --Democrats with the economy and the Republicans by threatening to default on the federal debt. And I spoke out against that."

This difference is nuance you don't get in a 30-second clip.  Perdue, in fact, sided with Ted Cruz during last year's government shutdown and debt limit debate. In general, he was in the a-pox-on-all-their-houses camp when it came to debt ceiling brinkmanship, saying fiscal reforms should have been worked out long ago and without an economy-rattling deadline. Our own Galloway called him the adult in the room for giving a similar quote to the one above.

Kingston voted for debt ceiling increases when Republicans controlled the White House and both branches of Congress. The most recent increase Kingston supported was attached to a Republican-authored budget in 2006 and raised the cap to a now quaint-sounding $8.9 trillion (these days the debt is a cool $17.5 trillion).

Now that under President Obama debt limit hikes have become apocalyptic showdowns -- and Kingston has voted against them -- the political terrain has shifted, but Perdue wants to remind voters that Kingston has been in Washington long enough to give his approval to rising debt numbers.

Perdue has based his campaign on being a fiscal hawk and talks about the national debt every chance he gets. He's not saying is under what circumstances he would approve a debt ceiling increase -- but it's clear such circumstances exist. Perdue told me in October that he wanted the deadline to spark "a real bipartisan effort to get at the huge crux of this thing" and wanted economic growth initiatives to be part of the discussion along with tax and spending figures.

That's how you side with Cruz but still position yourself for a general election. It helps not to have a voting record, too.

Kingston acknowledged in the October AJC story that when your party is in control, the debt ceiling is a killer must-pass vote. So he saw this ad coming:

"Those of us who've been here for a while and have had to vote for a debt ceiling, it's something you're going to get dinged on --- period, " said Kingston, a Savannah Republican first elected to Congress in 1992.

"There's just no way around it, " he said, "but that's part of being an incumbent, part of governing, that you have to make tough votes."


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