Mark Pryor, Tom Cotton Split on Government Shutdown Talk

LITTLE ROCK - Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor on Thursday accused Republican challenger Rep. Tom Cotton's campaign of misleading Arkansas voters about whether he'd support shutting down the federal government if the GOP doesn't get its way on spending.

Cotton's campaign denied he's supporting a shutdown, and said Pryor and Democrats are the ones promoting the idea.

Citing a January radio interview Cotton gave where he said Republicans have to be prepared to shut down government, Pryor's campaign questioned the first-term congressman's assertion that he had never supported a shutdown.

"Instead of leveling with Arkansans about his willingness to shut down the government, Congressman Cotton would rather pretend he never supported a Washington political ploy with real consequences for our seniors, small businesses and rural families," Pryor campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a statement released by the campaign.

Pryor's campaign was criticizing Cotton's remarks on the Andrea Tantaros radio show in January about whether to threaten a government shutdown over debt ceiling negotiations that were being waged then.

"(White House spokesman) Jay Carney has said, Congressman, over and over and over (President Obama) will not compromise on this issue. So, if Republicans don't get what they want, and we have a president digging in his heels, are you prepared to shut down the government?" host Andrea Tantaros asked.

Cotton responded: "I think we have to be. We have to be willing to draw the line and say that we have a debt crisis in this country that's caused by two simple facts: We spend too much, and we have too little growth. We have to adopt pro-growth policies and we have to reduce the explosive deficit spending under the Obama administration to get the economy growing again to confront this debt crisis."

"Tom never advocated a government shutdown - that is something being promoted by Mark Pryor and Barack Obama," Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt said in an email. "Tom Cotton and Republicans are trying to reduce spending and spare Americans the train wreck that is Obamacare."

Cotton also released a statement that stopped short of saying whether he'd advocate such a move, but said that in the current spending debate only the president has the authority to shut down government.

"I am confident the House majority will pass a law to keep the government operating," Cotton said. "Most people in the House majority were elected on a clear mandate to rein in government spending and to unwind Obamacare. We intend to keep our word. If the President chooses to shut down the government and defy the public, it's a sad statement about his own vanity."

Arkansas has turned into a key battleground on the effort to defund or delay the health care law by attaching it to the spending and debt ceiling debates. A conservative group launched its national tour urging support for the idea in Arkansas last month, and Obama enlisted former President Bill Clinton to call for opponents to drop repeal efforts during a speech in Little Rock.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, broadcast or distributed.)