October 7, 2013

With the government shutdown dragging into Week Two, and the debt limit deadline creeping closer, Republicans continue to insist the cause of our current governing crisis is that Obama and Democrats refuse to negotiate with them. On ABC News yesterday, John Boehner repeated this talking point again and again.

Yet in the process, Boehner revealed what this invitation to “negotiate” really means. He implicitly confirmed Republicans will only negotiate in a context in which Republicans can employ the looming threat of disaster for the country as a way to unilaterally increase their leverage, and will not negotiate without being granted this leverage. Here’s the key exchange, with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: The Democrats, including Senate Democrat Harry Reid, has said he’s more than willing to have a conference, more than willing to have a negotiation, but not under the threat of a government shutdown, not under the threat of a default.

BOEHNER:  So it’s my way or the highway.  That’s what he’s saying.  Complete surrender and then we’ll talk to you.

This is an extremely important and revealing moment. Boehner is explicitly saying that the Democrats’ refusal to negotiate in a context where the threat of widespread harm to the country gives Republicans leverage – and their insistence on negotiating outside this context — represents a demand for “complete surrender” by Republicans, and hence is a non-starter. But in this scenario, Republicans would not be giving up anything, other than the very leverage Republicans presume the threat of widespread harm to the country grants them. For Republicans, agreeing to negotiate without this unilateral leverage would itself be surrender!

Indeed, later in the interview, Boehner agreed not raising the debt limit would mean widespread economic damage:

STEPHANOPOULOS: The Treasury Department put out a report just the other day, where they said it would be unprecedented and catastrophic, that would be the impact of failing to pass a debt limit.  They’re going to say, credit markets could freeze.  The value of the dollar could plummet.  U.S. interest rates could skyrocket.  The negative spillovers could reverberate around the world, and there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse. Do you agree with that assessment?

BOEHNER:  I do.

Stephanopoulos also asked Boehner what concessions Republicans would be willing to make in this “negotiation” he’s requesting. Boehner couldn’t name any, and indeed, he even ruled out conceding anything on new revenues.

A lot of folks have been willing to accept Boehner’s demand for “negotiations” at face value. But let’s be clear on what he is really asking for here. Boehner is actually ruling out any negotiations in which Republicans don’t enjoy the leverage that the threat of a massive economic meltdown confers upon them. And he’s also saying Republicans will make no concessions of their own in them.

Some will argue that agreeing to raise the debt limit constitutes a “concession” on the part of at least some conservative Republicans. But why is it a concession if Boehner concedes it must happen to avert widespread disaster for the country? As Boehner himself admits, it is the giving up of presumed leverage itself that constitutes surrender for Republicans. He’s insisting on this leverage as a condition for any negotiations.

If this is an invitation to “negotiate,” the word has simply lost all meaning. Really, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for folks to reckon with the objective reality of the GOP position here.

* REPUBLICANS FLOAT SHORT TERM SOLUTION TO CRISIS: It’s being reported that some Republicans are floating the idea of a six-week extension and funding of the government, during which time both sides could sit down and negotiate a longer term solution. The Post’s big write up has the key detail:

Among the options: A short-term suspension, perhaps no longer than six weeks, designed to force Obama to the bargaining table. But some Republicans argue that even a short-term suspension should come with strings attached.

Yup — even this escape hatch for Republicans must include unilateral concessions by Dems. More broadly, it’s unclear why a temporary extension would solve the problem — Dems would still be negotiating under threat of widespread harm to the country later.

* THE GOP’S DEBT LIMIT WISH LIST IS DEAD: Also key from the Post’s big write up: Remember that long conservative wish list Republicans were going to demand in exchange for raising the debt limit? Well:

Senior GOP aides acknowledge that their debt-limit bill, with its wish list of far-flung conservative initiatives, is dead.

This is why you now hear Boehner and other GOP leaders shifting hard into a discussion of tying spending cuts to a debt limit hike. Of course, this will likely encourage Dems to continue holding to a hard line.

* MEMBERS OF BOTH PARTIES CONTRADICT BOEHNER: The House Speaker continued to insist this weekend that a “clean CR” funding the government can’t pass the House, but members of both parties are contradicting him, including Dem Chuck Schumer and GOP Rep. Peter King, who said:

“If it went on the floor tomorrow, I could see anywhere from 50 to 75 Republicans voting for it. And if it were a secret ballot, 150.”

We know that 200 House Dems, and at least 22 House Republicans, support a clean CR. Indeed, many more House Republicans might privately be okay with a clean CR getting a vote and passing with a lot of Dems. Boehner could end this tomorrow if he wanted to.

* COULD A CLEAN DEBT CEILING PASS CONGRESS? Republicans continue to insist a clean debt limit could never pass the House, and David Drucker reports that Republicans are now claiming it would “never” pass the Senate:

“Never going to happen,” Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said of the chances of a clean debt ceiling bill passing. “Never has happened; never is going to happen.”

Really? There wouldn’t be six GOP Senators willing to support raising the debt limit if default loomed? I’m skeptical, but at any rate, you’ll be hearing a lot of this in the days ahead. Might be worth putting GOP Senators on record here.

* GOP RADICALISM AND INCOMPETENCE IS UNDENIABLE: Paul Krugman suggests Republicans have now found themselves with their backs to the wall on the debt limit because they were too incompetent to realize that Obama would have no choice but to refuse to negotiate, and to turn that into a matter of principle. And this continues to be cast as a “both sides to blame” story:

How did this happen? The main answer, which only the most pathologically “balanced” reporting can deny, is the radicalization of the Republican Party….Everybody not inside the bubble realizes that Mr. Obama can’t and won’t negotiate under the threat that the House will blow up the economy if he doesn’t — any concession at all would legitimize extortion as a routine part of politics.

The continued treatment of this as a conventional Washington negotiation, I’d argue, is a symptom of a broader refusal to reckon with the reality of what today’s GOP has become.

* THE DELUSION DRIVING THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN BRIGADE: E.J. Dionne gets this exactly right: The whole quest to use this fall’s fiscal fights as leverage to undermine Obamacare is “premised on the delusion that Obama’s election victories were meaningless.” Indeed, it’s driven by the refusal of many Republicans to come to terms with the fact that they no longer have the leverage they enjoyed in 2011.

 * AND IS TEA PARTY FATIGUE SETTING IN? The Post has a great piece detailing that at least four Tea Party Republicans are now facing primaries from challengers who say it’s time for less of a slash and burn approach to governing, a reversal of the situation in which primaries all came from the right. Here’s the motive behind the challenge to Rep. Justin Amash:

Some business leaders are recruiting a Republican primary challenger who they hope will serve the old-fashioned way — by working the inside game and playing nice to gain influence and solve problems for the district. They are tired of tea party governance, as exemplified by the budget fight that led to the shutdown and threatens a first-ever U.S. credit default.

Wait, so GOP candidates are running on a promise to govern constructively, rather than engage in endless sabotage governing? Should be an interesting experiment.

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.