October 8, 2013

If you want to understand why the White House and Democrats are saying they must not cave to GOP extortion demands, look no further than the present. The GOP addiction to something-for-nothing governing — in which Republicans continue to refuse to let go of the idea that the threat of economic disaster should give them leverage to extract unilateral concessions from Dems — is manifesting itself in the governing chaos you’re witnessing right now. In other words, we know what will happen later if this is legitimized: More of the same.

Today House Republicans are set to meet to chart the way forward, even as polls continue to show they are losing this battle. There are various ideas being bandied about. One idea is to package funding of the government and a debt limit hike into a big budget deal that would give Republicans a bunch of spending cuts and other goodies. But conservatives are wary of this plan because it doesn’t destroy or substantially delay Obamacare, so it’s unclear whether House Republicans could pass it. Another idea is for short term funding of the government and a temporary debt limit hike, to buy time to keep up the fight, but Republican aides say this, too, would face substantial resistance among House Republicans.

In other words, it’s not even clear whether stopgap solutions can pass the GOP House, because they don’t extract enough in unilateral concessions from Dems.

There are two moving parts to keep an eye on right now. One thing to watch for at today’s meeting will be how ferociously conservatives in the House react if John Boehner suggests something short of continuing total war against Obamacare. Another thing to watch for is whether “moderate” House Republicans seriously demand a way out. This quote from one such moderate is instructive:

 “A big deal would be great, but we’ll have to wait and see,” says Representative Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.). “We’re trying to talk to [the conservative wing] about the impact shutdown has in suburban, moderate, and competitive districts like mine, and I hope they listen. But Ted Cruz sold them this line, and they’ve run with it.”

So moderates are trying to get conservatives to see that the current GOP strategy is having a real impact in swing districts. But conservatives are having none of it. Democrats have offered a way out: A clean CR and debt limit hike that pass with mostly Democrats, and the latter will come to the fore if and when Senate Dems pass a clean debt limit bill and send it over to the House. GOP leaders won’t allow a vote on it.

All of the current craziness just underscores, again, why Dems must not cave in this fight. Republicans are using the government shutdown and threat of default to extract unilateral concessions from Dems — particularly on Obamacare — as an explicit way to avoid engaging in the normal give and take of governing. It isn’t just that legitimizing GOP extortion makes default more likely later, because it will mean we have to go through all of this again and again, though that’s true enough. It’s also that we are seeing the governing implications of it right now, in all the confusion and uncertainty that flows directly from the fact that Republicans are not prepared to give up on using the threat of widespread harm to the country as leverage to get something for nothing.

* ANOTHER POLL SHOWS REPUBLICANS LOSING THE ARGUMENT: A new National Journal poll has more red flags for the GOP:

Even though roughly half those surveyed in the current poll think the administration is mainly or equally to blame for the shutdown, and Obama and Democrats are underwater on the issue, Americans — by a vast ratio of more than 2-to-1 — disapprove of the House GOP tying the future of the Affordable Care Act to funding the government or raising the debt ceiling.

Yes, Obama will take a real hit in this battle, but Republicans are likely to take a substantially larger hit, and the public is rejecting the entire premise of their argument.

* REPUBLICANS TO BLAME FOR TAKING COUNTRY TO BRINK: Dan Balz has a terrific piece pinning the blame for our current crisis directly on the degree to which the GOP is in thrall to a Tea Party radicalism that defines compromise with Obama as capitulation and is not interested in developing a positive governing agenda:

The dangers for Boehner and the Republicans are obvious. The longer this standoff continues, the more he and his leadership team will be defined by the most hard-line constituency in the GOP coalition. Obama has his own calculations to make as the debt-ceiling deadline nears and he weighs the consequences of default and whether there is any realistic prospect for a deal on entitlements, spending and taxes. But it is the Republicans who decided to risk pushing the country to the brink.

Yes, that’s true. The only mystery is why it’s so hard for so many to admit the obvious.

* WOULD SENATE REPUBLICANS SUPPORT DEBT CEILING INCREASE? With Dems set to hold a vote on a clean debt limit hike this week, Bloomberg News canvasses GOP Senators and finds:

At least four Senate Republicans — Murkowski, John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine — kept open the option of voting for a debt-limit increase without conditions or helping one pass.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp is making noise about being undecided, but you can expect all 54 Dems to vote Yes, which means only six Republicans are required to break the filibuster and send a clean debt limit hike to the House, where leaders will of course refuse to allow a vote on it, again underscoring the absurdity of the GOP position.

* MARKETS COMPLACENT ABOUT DEFAULT: This is a key point. Nathaniel Popper reports that some investors are worried that the markets are not yet appearing rattled by the prospect of a debt limit breach and default, because Congress has repeatedly averted this outcome in the past. As one puts it: “We’ve seen this movie before, we know how it’s going to end.”

Senior Obama administration officials are actually worried about this dynamic. They fear that this could result in less public pressure from the business community on Republicans to agree to a debt limit hike, which could, paradoxically, make default more likely.

* WALL STREET’S PSYCHOLOGY ON THE DEBT LIMIT: Related to the above, Aaron Sorkin explains it well:

Nobody believes the country will actually exceed the debt limit — which is exactly why it might…Oddly enough, despite all the predictions of panic, the stock market was down only marginally over the last couple of sessions….Here’s the perversity of Wall Street’s psychology: The more Wall Street is convinced that Washington will act rationally and raise the debt ceiling, most likely at the 11th hour, the less pressure there will be on lawmakers to reach an agreement. That will make it more likely a deal isn’t reached.

The question isn’t whether “Washington” will act “rationally,” it’s whether Republicans will, but still, in this case, the faith that this will happen seems more misplaced than usual.

 * GOP DEFAULT SCHEME PLAN POSES MAJOR ECONOMIC RISKS: Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Top Wall Street executives are warning that any effort to pay interest on U.S. debt before other obligations such as Social Security, a strategy some lawmakers think would placate bond investors if the government breaches its borrowing limit, would pose severe risks to financial markets and the economy.

This is a way Republicans seem to think they can avoid the disastrous consequences of a debt ceiling breach while still using the threat of it to extort major unilateral concessions from Dems. Good to see the financial community warning it’s a nonstarter.

 * AND OBAMA HAS A CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY TO AVERT DEFAULT: Historian Sean Wilenz has a fascinating piece urging Obama to understand that he has a Constitutional duty to invoke the president’s emergency powers, not just to avert default if Republicans trigger it, but also to reveal the “true character” of the GOP “assault on the government.” Of course, that could lead to this:

It is always possible that if the administration follows the two-step constitutional remedy, the House might lash out and try to impeach Mr. Obama…But the president would have done his constitutional duty, saved the country and undoubtedly earned the gratitude of a relieved people. Then the people would find the opportunity to punish those who vandalized the Constitution and brought the country to the brink of ruin.

Well, it’s one way out, anyway.

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.