September 24, 2013

If you want to get a sense of how the politics of the debt limit battle may well play out, check out this video of former George W. Bush budget director Jim Nussle that was flagged for me by a Democrat.

It shows Nussle saying another round of debt limit brinksmanship is folly, that it risks imperiling the recovery, and that we must not go down this path again, as we did in 2011:

In a rational world, this would do serious damage to the claim we’re now hearing that the coming round of demands in exchange for a debt limit hike is business as usual. Nussle was not only Bush’s budget director; he was also a relatively conservative eight term Congressman who chaired the House budget committee. Notably, Nussle claims that the brinksmanship itself will damage the economy, regardless of the ultimate outcome, just as happened in 2011.

“There will be repercussions that our economy right now doesn’t need, doesn’t deserve, at a time when it’s just trying to get back on its feet,” he said, noting that “we can’t afford” to go down this path again. He added: “We’re really at a positive tipping point where you could get back to growth, you could get back to creating jobs, you could get back to economic development.”

“We can’t do that if there’s no certainty,” Nussle added, which is interesting, given that the need for “certainty” is exactly the argument Republicans long used against Obamacare — the very sticking point that is causing the coming confrontation.

What’s interesting is that House GOP leaders agree that not raising the debt ceiling threatens the economy. John Boehner has told us so himself.

Indeed, since we’re already seeing an outbreak of “both sides to blame” reporting on the coming debt limit confrontation (see this Wall Street Journal article for a good example), it’s worth stating as plainly as possible what the position of House GOP leaders in this battle really is.

Here goes: We know that we must raise the debt ceiling, because not doing so could destroy the economy, but we are going to demand a whole range of concessions in exchange for doing it, anyway — including the delay of Obama’s signature domestic achievement, even though it has already been litigated in a presidential election, and survived.

This is objectively the GOP leadership position. John Boehner has already conceded he will raise the debt ceiling, because not doing so “will risk the full faith and credit of the federal government.” Those are the House Speaker’s words. Meanwhile, House Republicans are rolling out a plan to demand a staggering array of demands in exchange for doing what Boehner himself says must happen, including an Obamacare delay. Meanwhile, Boehner himself has already conceded that the meaning of the 2012 election is that Obamacare is “the law of the land.”

Yet it’s all but certain that coverage of this battle will treat it as one in which two sides are asking the other to make roughly equivalent concessions, and are failing to meet in the middle, thanks to a roughly equivalent refusal to compromise on both their parts. In reality, the concession Republicans would be making on their side — in exchange for a comically extensive litany of concessions from Dems — is agreeing not to destroy the economy for all of us. If that counts as a concession in service of a potential compromise, the two words have lost all meaning.

As for the politics of how all of this will play out, the new National Journal poll I mentioned this morning finds that a majority of Americans, 52 percent, want to “increase the U.S. debt limit and deal with the health care issue separately.” Fewer than one third of Americans  — 31 percent — say “only increase the debt limit if Obama agrees to delay or withdraw his health care plan.” Fifty-one percent of independents oppose linking the two. Meanwhile, fewer than half of Republicans — 48 percent — favor using the debt limit as leverage to defund Obamacare. But since they hold outsized sway over the GOP, it must be done.

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