January 9, 2013

It is one of the most remarkable GOP spin jobs in recent memory : Republicans are painstakingly redefining raising the debt ceiling as something that would constitute giving something to the President, when in fact it is something that is necessary to avert financial disaster for the whole country.

Republicans are being very transparent about the goal of redefining the debt limit on these terms. For instance, the Hill reports today that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are diverging on how to handle the next round of fiscal talks. Senate Republicans want a more aggressive approach to debt ceiling hostage taking than House Republicans do, in the belief that it is the GOP’s primary leverage point to get the spending cuts they want. John Boehner recently said he believes the sequester gives Republicans more leverage than the debt ceiling does, but Senate Republicans disagree:

Boehner said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester give Republicans their best opportunity to push Obama to accept reforms. 

But Senate Republicans think the debt ceiling is a stronger lever. 

“The debt ceiling has a fair amount of leverage. It’s the only thing that I can think of for the foreseeable future that the president needs Congress to do,” said a Senate Republican aide.

Get the trick here? Senate Republicans are describing the eventual hike in the debt ceiling as something the president needs from Congress, not something the whole country needs from Congress. Of course, Boehner is already on record admitting in 2011 that not raising it would constitute “financial disaster,” which may explain why he is backing off the claim that the debt limit gives GOP leverage. McConnell, apparently, disagrees.

This is only the latest sign of GOP disarray around the party’s debt ceiling strategy. Even if the party is struggling with their strategy here, however, it’s worth noting that it has been successful in redefining the meaning of debt ceiling hikes. Note that this subtle redefinition of lifting the debt limit as something that would constitute a favor to Obama has passed almost entirely unnoticed, and has essentially been internalized and accepted by many political observers. Which brings us to the next item.

 * Pelosi pushes Obama on debt ceiling: Nancy Pelosi is now calling on Obama to take his case about GOP debt ceiling hostage taking directly to the people, and urging him resort to the 14th amendment option if necessary.

As the above suggests — and as polls confirm — Dems need to better educate the public about what the debt ceiling is and what default would actually mean. The GOP has successfully spun their intransigence as synonymous with holding the line against spending, when in fact it amounts to nothing more than threatening to default on debts that have been already been incurred.

* Gabrielle Giffords’ group to push for strict gun control: The Post has more detail on the new group that was unveiled yesterday by Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, It will push for a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and universal background checks. Crucially, the group is reaching out to gun owners, on the theory that even they support such common sense reforms (which do have broad majority support).

As noted here yesterday, it will be crucial to isolate the NRA and unmask it as representative of only the gun industry and a small minority of Americans.

* Will Giffords’ group successfully take on NRA? Her new political action committee was formed expressly to counter the NRA’s influence on Congress, and this demonstrates why this will be so hard:

The NRA spent at least $24 million in the 2012 election cycle, including $16.8 million through its political action committee and $7.5 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action. By comparison, the Brady Campaign spent around $5,800. And when it comes to direct lobbying of lawmakers, the NRA was also dominant. Through July 1, the NRA spent $4.4 million to lobby Congress, compared with the Brady Campaign’s $60,000.

Her PAC’s success in fundraising and lobbying Congress will be important to watch as a gauge of whether the political dynamic has shifted in a fundamental way after Newtown.

* New York to propose tough new gun laws: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo today will unveil a tough new package of gun control laws, including a much tighter assault weapons ban expansive background checks. Such state-level initiatives are worth watching as potential models for Obama’s planned federal package of initiatives; if it succeeds, it could serve as a high water mark of sorts for national gun control advocates.

* Harry Reid shifts on guns: The Senate Majority Leader has long been one of the most aggressively pro gun “rights” Senators, but now he’s acknowledging, albeit carefully, that the federal government must do more to protect Americans from gun violence. The thing to watch with these pro-gun Dems is what specific initiatives to accomplish that they’re actually willing to support.

* More questionable Hagel quotes about gays emerge: TPM’s Sahil Kapur unearths more Hagel quotes about Clinton ambassadorial nominee James Hormel in a 1998 newspaper article:

Hormel “very aggressively told the world of his gayness and the funding and all the things he’s been involved in,” Hagel was quoted as saying. “I think you do go beyond common sense there, and reason and a certain amount of decorum.”.

Hagel also described a group of performing gay men dressed as nuns as an “anti Catholic gay group.” This is unlikely to damage Hagel much, but Democratic Senators must press Hagel hard on his commitment to implementing the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

* John Brennan must be pressed on drones: As the Post editorial board notes today, Senate Democrats must press Obama’s pick for CIA director on whether he’s willing to bring more transparency and Congressional oversight to Obama’s drone program. Human rights advocates are also hoping that Brennan is pressed on whether he supports the full public release of a report Senate Democrats have just completed into Bush-era torture programs.

* What was Brennan’s relationship to Bush torture programs? Conor Friedersdorf makes the case that the circumstantial evidence supports the idea that Brennan was complicit, something he has denied. At any rate, we’ll soon see Brennan himself pressed on this, since John McCain has vowed to do so at his confirmation hearings.

* And could the GOP split apart? Josh Kraushaar argues in a provocative piece that it’s a real possibility, because the the Tea Party wing, in the grip of anti-tax and anti-government fundamentalism, is no longer ideologically in sync with pragmatic GOP leaders who recognize the long term threat that its intransigence poses to the party.

The looming fight over immigration reform,  could badly exacerbate the divide. since the base will oppose compromise on it with Dems at any cost, even as GOP leaders mindful of their Latino problem understand that the fate of the party is at stake.

 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.