October 8, 2013

House Republicans roll out a new proposal to…well, it’s unclear what, exactly, it would accomplish:

House Republicans will bring to the floor a bill to create a bipartisan, bicameral committee to address the current fiscal impasse that has shut down much of the government and threatens a debt default.

A GOP leadership aide said the committee wouldn’t just handle the continuing resolution needed to fund the government. It would have broader jurisdiction similar to the 2011 Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the supercommittee, and would cover the debt limit and other fiscal issues. [...]

There is no timetable for the group — formally dubbed the Bicameral Working Group on Deficit Reduction and Economic Growth — to act. It would have 20 members — 10 each from the House and the Senate. Unlike the original supercommittee, it would not be empowered with fast-track rules for consideration of its recommendations on the House and Senate floors…Separately, House Republicans will propose a bill to pay essential employees who are on the job now.

It’s unclear to me how, exactly, this idea would resolve the central sticking point, which is over whether negotiations should take place in a context where the threat of continued widespread harm to the country — whether through a government shutdown or through default — theoretically gives Republicans added leverage. Dems say they will only negotiate until Republicans forego it by reopening the government and raising the debt limit, because reaching a deal under these conditions would legitimize GOP hostage taking.

Republicans want to continue enjoying this leverage, which is why they keep continuing to insist Dems “negotiate” before those things happen. This latest move looks like little more than an effort to repackage this same ask. Indeed, it looks like an effort to confer more legitimacy on this fundamentally unbalanced request, and to buy time to continue arguing that Republicans are the ones who want to compromise while Obama is refusing to negotiate, a talking point that has at least a chance of working over time, thanks to its simplicity. So it’s hard to see why Dems would agree to this. (Steve Benen spells out a host of other reasons Dems wouldn’t be likely to accept it).

Dems are already dismissing the idea as a “gimmick.” It is that, but in fairness, a gimmick might be just the way for Republicans to get out of this situation. Remember, the White House is open to making procedural concessions to Republicans — but not policy ones — in exchange for a debt limit hike. One example of this might be the McConnell provision, which transfers authority over the debt limit to the president. Senate Dems are going to hold a Senate vote on a clean debt limit hike that will likely function very much in this fashion. The endgame for Republicans might be to embrace procedural concessions of this sort, accept Harry Reid’s invitation to go to conference and say, look, Democrats have agreed to our demand for negotiatiations over Obamacare and out of control spending, spin it as a win for Republicans, let a debt limit hike pass with a lot of Democrats, and hope for the best.

So, yes, Republicans should be looking for a gimmick as a way out, but ideally it would be a gimmick Dems can accept.

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