January 4, 2013

President Obama has vowed that there will be no negotiating with the GOP over the debt ceiling. If Republicans demand anything in return for raising it, the White House will not engage. Period, full stop. Chuck Schumer has echoed this vow: “We are not negotiating any political agenda in return for raising the debt ceiling.”

Like many others, I’d like to believe this is true. But what does “not negotiating” look like?

The idea appears to be that the White House and Democrats will only engage in conversations over the sequester, tax reform, and spending cuts, and simply won’t confer any legitimacy on GOP threats not to raise the debt ceiling. But it’s unclear to me how this will work in practical terms. Unless Obama is prepared to go into default — or to pull some other ace out of his back pocket, such as the 14th amendment or “platinum coin” options — he will inevitably be negotiating over the debt ceiling. And he doesn’t appear prepared to do any of those things.

I’ve said before that GOP leaders know they have to raise the debt limit, and that no matter what they say now, they will ultimately agree to do so. But the narrowness of John Boehner’s reelection as Speaker yesterday underscores that you really can’t predict the behavior of rank and file House Republicans. If some of them are genuinely prepared to go into default, doesn’t the failure of Dems to win a debt ceiling hike in the first round of talks mean the next round of negotiations will inevitably be about this, too?

Press coverage of the debt ceiling fight is only exacerbating this problem. As noted here yesterday, news orgs are treating this looming battle as a standard Washington standoff, in which each side is withholding concessions in order to extract what it wants from the other. Indeed, it’s worse than this. Alec MacGillis has a good piece today documenting that there has been a palpable shift in the tone of media discussion from the last debt ceiling crisis. While last time, the GOP’s debt ceiling hostage taking was properly covered as something brazen, unprecedented, and unacceptable, this time around it has become the new normal:

Political convention has successfully been defined down, and the Republicans’ stated intent to hold the debt-ceiling hostage again is being viewed as a matter of course. [...]

It’s one thing if this blitheness about the coming hostage-taking is contained within the Beltway. But if this perception starts to percolate out more broadly, the White House is in far weaker position heading into the next round than it would like to believe.

That’s my worry, too. And so this isn’t intended as a rhetorical question, but more as an invitation for suggestions: How exactly does the White House go about “not negotiating” here?

* Obama reshapes immigration through executive action: The Post has a good overview of Obama’s latest move to ease visa restrictions for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, which is part of a larger push to utilize executive action to reshape immigration without Congress.

The Obama administration has pursued a huge number of deportations. But the executive actions are welcome, since it signals he is prepared for a major battle with Republicans over legislative immigration reform, which could really happen, given the worry among (sensible) Republicans about Latinos and the GOP’s future.

* On immigration reform, it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when”: As National Journal points out, the crucial role Latinos played in the last election all but ensures that immigration reform will be taken up seriously in the next two years. Indeed, the White House is already debating whether to lay down basic principles and ask Congress to get to work or to roll out its own legislation, which would be a real statement of seriousness of purpose.

* Pressure mounts for real filibuster reform: This is a key development: Many of the newly elected Democratic Senators are now calling for the Democratic leadership not to water down filibuster reform for the sake of winning bipartisan support, insisting that the “talking filibuster” provision must be preserved. What we’re seeing here is the first sign that the new influx of energetic and progressive Senators are really going to pressure the leadership to change the way business is done in the Upper Chamber.

* Jobs picture remains lackluster: Remember when those monthly jobs reports were getting so much attention? Well, here’s the report for December:

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 155,000 in December, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.8 percent.

Good thing our lawmakers are focusing like a laser on … the deficit.

* The “platinum coin” option gains attention: The Huffington Post has a good explainer of the “magic coin” answer to the debt ceiling crisis, in which the government could supposedly mint a platinum coin worth a trillion dollars and deposit it in the Treasury to pay its bills. Rep. Jerrold Nadler has also endorsed this solution, the idea being that the GOP threat to crash the economy justifies an extraordinary solution. More on this later.

* No, the debt limit fight is not a standard Washington negotiation: Paul Krugman’s column today reiterates the stakes in the coming debt ceiling fight, which essentially boils down to this: Will Obama allow the GOP to reverse the gains the fiscal cliff deal made in combating inequality by giving in to GOP debt ceiling blackmail? Also:

Threatening to hurt tens of millions of innocent victims unless you get your way — which is what the G.O.P. strategy boils down to — shouldn’t be treated as a legitimate political tactic.

And yet the press continues to play along.

* Media helps GOP “normalize” political hostage taking: Relatedly, Steve Benen makes a crucial point about the debt ceiling coverage:

One of the things I worry about at this stage is a false sense of routinization — much of the political world has already started to look at debt-ceiling fights as routine, which is the exact opposite of reality. It’s a manufactured crisis — and a legitimate national scandal — that was largely unthinkable before 2011, which the GOP hopes to normalize with the media’s help.

It’s unclear to me that there’s anything that will change this.

* And we don’t really have a spending problem: Kevin Drum has the charts of the day, which demonstrate that the problem is not spending, but aging and taxation. I would only add that despite the Republican claim that “we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” the American public (which supports tax hikes on the rich) fully understands that we do indeed have a revenue problem.

What else?

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.