Ever since John Boehner last night called for trillions in cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, folks have been wondering how aggressively the White House and Dems would respond. So this exchange, from the press gaggle aboard Air Force One with press secretary Jay Carney, is pretty interesting (per the White House transcript):
CARNEY: We continue to maintain that it is folly to hold hostage the vote to raise the debt ceiling to prevent the United States of America from defaulting on its obligations to any other piece of legislation. We will get a fiscal agreement, we believe. We’re optimistic. We believe we can get that. But to hold one hostage to the other remains extremely unwise in our view.
And I would simply note some of the things that Speaker Boehner has said in the past, if I have them here, about just that issue. Back in the last day of January — or, no, January 30th, rather, he said — this is the Speaker of the House — to raise that — failing to raise the debt ceiling would mean, “financial disaster not only for our country but for the worldwide economy. You can’t create jobs if you default on the federal debt.” We couldn’t agree more.
QUESTION: If I could fast-forward it to last night, did you hear Boehner as a hostage-taker or a deal-maker?
CARNEY: I believe that it is fine for all participants in this process to restate their starting positions. That we understand. But we believe that there is — that common ground can be found between Republicans and Democrats in these negotiations being overseen by the Vice President.
Carney twice used the word “hostage” to describe Boehner’s treatment of the situation, and when pressed, refused to say whether the White House views Boehner as a “hostage-taker.” That’s pretty aggressive stuff. But I wonder whether this isn’t how Boehner wants this to be perceived. During the battle over spending cuts, Boehner adopted a deliberate strategy of dragging us right up to the brink of a government shutdown, in order to make it easier to sell the final compromise to conservatives later, by giving him a way to credibly argue that he’d done everything possible to extract maximum concessions from Dems.
My bet is Boehner is going to adopt the same brinkmanship strategy again with the debt ceiling — he’ll take us to the brink of armageddon in order to make it easier to sell the final deal to conservatives later, even if he doesn’t get the “trillions” he wants. And for the White House to accuse Boehner of “hostage” taking in order to extract maximum spending cuts only helps with conservatives: That’s what they want him to do.
The risk, of course, is that brinkmanship can lead to war, and this time, a war could arguably be far more catastrophic.