Washington (CNN) – In a high-stakes game of chicken, House Republican leaders appear more willing than before to allow the country to default on its loans and shut the government down, in order to force the president and Democrats to agree to spending cuts.
In conversations with House GOP leadership aides, it was clear they want to try to reclaim the upper hand in this debate over slashing government spending.
"If the White House continues to pretend that hoping is a strategy then I don't see how we make progress," said one House GOP leadership aide.
One member of the leadership, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, told Politico that its "possible that we would shut the government to make sure president Obama understands we're serious."
That quote – and the story it was in – appears to be a deliberate attempt to raise the stakes and send the president a message.
"If that story sparks the White House to abandon their strategy of sticking their fingers in their ears and hoping real hard we pass a debt limit increase without real spending cuts –that's a good thing. That's not a realistic strategy," said the House Republican leadership aide.
House GOP leaders argue their position hasn't changed from the last time the country hit the debt ceiling in 2011 – they want a dollar of spending cuts for every dollar the debt limit is increased.
The same senior Republican aide says that with the White House ruling out other options – minting a trillion coin or using the authority under 14th Amendment – the only option is for Congress to pass legislation and it is possible that unless the President changes his position, Congress won't agree to raise the debt limit.
One option, if they cannot agree to a bigger package, is that Congress could just raise the debt limit for short period of time instead of a full year.
"The White House knows our position - we need spending cuts or reforms equal to the debt limit increase – if they can only find a month or two, then that's what they get."
Despite this bravado, other House GOP leadership aides tell CNN they do not think the Speaker is willing make good on these threats – and put the credit of the United States on the line with the debt ceiling. Shutting down the government may have fewer long term consequences with regard to the health of the economy, but some House Republican leadership aides say even that is too politically risky.
The issue, however, is that there are a number of rank and file House Republicans who bit their tongues in and around the fiscal cliff debate, believing the debt ceiling and potential government shut down is where their leverage is.
How far House Republicans are willing to go will no doubt be a big topic at this week's House GOP retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia.
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