As President Barack Obama steps up his declarations about the dire consequences of not raising the debt limit, an increasing number of Congressional Republicans have started to shift their focus from the economy to physics, disputing the importance of the Higgs boson and even questioning the contention of theoretical physicists that without the Higgs field, there would be no atoms and no us.

A surprisingly broad section of the Republican Party is convinced that the last missing ingredient of the Standard Model a set of equations that has ruled particle physics for last 50 years does not exist or, if it does, may not be as important as scientists say.

Some lawmakers have even begun questioning scientists view that without the Higgs field elementary particles would move around at the speed of light. Some problems would arise if all particles traveled at the speed of light, they concede.

But I think the real cosmological challenge, the grave situation that is highly problematic for our nation, is Obamacare moving at the speed of light, said Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee.

Others insist there is no threat at all from anything even the Affordable Care Act moving at the speed of light.

Thats just something scientists like to say. And it really is irresponsible of Dr. Higgs to try to scare us like that, said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, referring to Peter W. Higgs, who along with Franois Englert was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work that led to the discovery of the particle that confers mass on other particles, known as the Higgs boson. If you dont have the Higgs, all youre saying is, We are living in a world of perfect symmetry where everything interesting like the smell of a rose or a senator from Kentucky is not dependent on lapses in that simplicity. So if you put it in those terms, all these scary terms of, Oh my goodness, the worlds going to end if we are elegant and symmetrical, the worlds going to end?

If you propose it that way, he said, the American public will say that sounds like a pretty reasonable way of looking at it.

We always have enough money to pay our debt service and we seem to have no shortage of mass, said Sen. Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, who pointed to a stream of tax revenue flowing into the Treasury and to his own weight as he shrugged off fears of a cascading financial and cosmological crisis. Youve had the federal government out of work for close to two weeks and we went centuries without the Higgs. Both these things are manageable.

In a news conference, Mr. Obama tried to turn the focus from physics back to finances, saying repeatedly that Dr. Higgs and Dr. Englert were more than capable of defending their own work and that those who doubted the validity of their model were making a huge mistake.

Im happy to talk to any of these lawmakers individually and walk them through exactly why this discovery matters in physics and of the importance of the symmetry between two forces, the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force, which provides the first step in the chain of reactions that gives the sun its energy - but not until Congress votes on a clean resolution and raises the debt ceiling, he said.

The turmoil created by the partial shutdown of the federal government and lawmakers refusal to accept Nobel-prize-winning work in physics has already sent investors fleeing from stocks to the safe harbor of Treasury bonds, long considered the most secure investment because the full faith and credit of the United States government has never been questioned. If that safe harbor is undermined, most economists have said, the impact could be catastrophic.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, both bastions of Republican support, sent letters to Congress on Tuesday urging a rethink on doubts about the Higgs.

Some Republicans trust such warnings.

Unlike some of my colleagues, Ive been told by too many people in science that this is important, said Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona. Of course Im worried. I am pretty sure that moving at the speed of light would prove to be the final undoing for the Straight Talk Express.

But the voices of denial persist, with some saying the effect of denying the Higgs is no more consequential than the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.

I didnt notice Dr. Higgs saying anything about that, Mr. Paul noted.

Congressional Republicans have varied arguments as to why the Higgs doesnt matter or at least doesnt matter as much as other issues of existential import.

To Rep. Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia and a candidate for the Senate, it is a question of ranking the evils.

There are a lot of things that are going to affect our economy and our universe, he said. The greatest threat right now is Obamacare. It has already destroyed jobs. It has already destroyed our economy. And if it stays in place as it is now, it will surely destroy the Higgs. I couldnt make it any plainer than that.

Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at