April 29, 2013

In 2010, Republicans threatened to put the nation into default unless Democrats agreed to fulfill every wild conservative wish, more or less, about the size of government.

This time? Apparently, Republicans are planning to threaten default unless they get … tax reform!

That’s the takeaway from a nice Post story about GOP strategy heading into the need to raise the debt limit this summer. The problem, basically, is that Republicans have already cut discretionary spending deeply thanks to sequestration, so it’s relatively hard for them to ask for that. What about entitlement cuts? Yes, Republicans had previously claimed they wanted entitlement cuts, and in his budget, Obama offered them Chained CPI on Social Security. But while cutting “entitlements” in the abstract is a big attraction for many conservatives, cutting Social Security and Medicare – which is what cutting entitlements actually means — is unpopular. So — while this is not entirely clear cut or decided — House Republicans apparently have suddenly decided they don’t want to ask for those in exchange for the debt limit hike, either.

Instead, they are considering forcing the Democrats to go along with them on tax reform. Jonathan Chait had some fun with this by noting that the main difference between the parties on tax reform is that Republicans insist on revenue-neutral tax reform while Democrats want net revenue increases, which means that Republicans would be threatening to default the nation unless Democrats … agree to larger deficits.

What I’d point out, in terms of how ridiculous this is, is that Republicans don’t have a tax reform bill for anyone to agree with. Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp is “vowing to draft complete legislation by the end of the year.” Not pass a bill in the House; not even pass a bill through committee — sure, in the party-run House, it’s possible that those will follow once a bill is ready, but there are no guarantees. Remember, the debt limit showdown is coming this summer. So what this means is that Republicans apparently are ready to insist on Dems agreeing to their this fictional legislation in exchange for the debt limit hike, but months before that legislation sees the light of day. This is not just a rhetorical demand: Republicans are asking for this in exchange for not destroying the economy.

The plain truth here is pretty obvious: Republicans love the idea of extorting concessions in exchange for agreeing to a debt limit hike, and are determined to do it even when they don’t actually have any real policy demands. It’s just extortion for extortion’s sake.

That’s what a “post-policy party” really looks like.