October 10, 2013

The House GOP game on the debt limit has long been painfully obvious for anyone who cared to pay any attention to the ruse at its core. GOP leaders insist Dems must give them whatever they demand in exchange for averting economic catastrophe — without saying whether they will actually allow default in the end. This “strategic ambiguity” has allowed Republicans to claim the debt limit as leverage while shielding themselves from charges that they are recklessly putting the economy at risk to get their way.

Today brings more confirmation that, No, John Boehner will not actually allow default in the end.

Multiple reports this morning tell us that the House GOP is set to roll out yet another strategy. They appear ready to support a “clean” six week debt limit hike, while keeping the government shut down and using that as their leverage to keep up the fight against Obamacare. Byron York has this key tidbit from a private meeting, revealing why GOP leaders are prepared to take the debt limit off the table:

At the meeting, Boehner pointed to the events of September 2008, when the economy was in free-fall and lawmakers first considered TARP, to illustrate the risk of pushing past the debt limit. Back then, the House at first rejected the hastily-conceived TARP proposal, and the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 700 points. Now, with the House facing a debt limit standoff that could result in default, the Speaker doesn’t want a replay of unhappy events. “Boehner said it’s too hot,” said the House Republican of the debt fight. “He doesn’t want to go there.”

Right, so Boehner is not prepared to allow default in the end. But what happens after this clean debt limit hike? Per the Wall Street Journal, House Republicans want to set up talks that would use the next debt limit deadline as leverage:

Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, outlined a plan Wednesday to fellow conservatives to extend the nation’s borrowing limit for four to six weeks, paired with a framework for broader deficit-reduction talks, according to lawmakers briefed on the proposal. The greater the spending reduction the talks produced, the longer the next extension of the debt ceiling would be under Mr. Ryan’s plan.

This is a neat illustration of the basic disconnect here. GOP leaders won’t allow default — and are explicitly proving it right now by coalescing around a clean debt limit increase. Many conservatives prefer to use the shutdown as leverage against Obamacare. And yet, Republicans still won’t let go of using the debt limit as leverage to force other concessions later because … well, just because.

Meanwhile, some GOP leaders are backing off the idea of winning any substantial concessions on Obamacare, and want to “refocus” on entitlements and broader fiscal issues, while some conservatives want the war on Obamacare (via the shutdown as leverage) to continue. Republicans can’t decide where their real leverage lies, and they can’t agree on what concessions they should be using that leverage — wherever it does lie, if anywhere – to extract.

The new idea appears to be that if Republicans keep the government shutdown status quo alive long enough — deferring default for the time being — then vulnerable Dems will ultimately cave and give up…something. But what? No one knows. And at any rate, all of this chaos will only make it more likely that Dems remain united behind their insistence that there will be no negotiations until threat conditions are lifted.

* BOEHNER UNSURE WHAT CONCESSIONS HE WILL EXTRACT: Related to the above, Politico has this behind the scenes tidbit:

In the private meeting of House leaders Wednesday, Boehner said that he would  not reopen government until he gets concessions from Democrats — but he didn’t say what those concessions were, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

It really now appears to be only about staging a hostage crisis for its own sake. As Steve Benen details, Republicans are, if anything, only backing down steadily from one stand and set of demands after another.

* BUSINESS GROUPS GO TO WAR WITH TEA PARTY: The New York Times has a big piece documenting how business groups who helped bankroll GOP candidates in 2010 and 2012, helping fuel the Tea Party’s rise, are increasingly alarmed that many of them are now flirting with a global economic meltdown. Business groups feel they’ve lost control of the radicals. Note this:

Their frustration has grown so intense in recent days that several trade association officials warned in interviews on Wednesday that they were considering helping wage primary campaigns against Republican lawmakers who had worked to engineer the political standoff in Washington.

Of course, this will only deepen the conviction among Tea Party lawmakers that they are shaking the corrupt establishment to its core, further persuading them of the righteousness of their cause. Also: Be skeptical of all of this. The corporate-GOP alliance isn’t seriously threatened here.

* TIME FOR MODERATE REPUBLICANS TO STEP UP: E.J. Dionne points out that GOP-aligned constituencies and moderate Republicans know full well that Obamacare is a centrist, market-based solution, and that the Tea Party’s insistence on damaging the country with its crusade against the law is insane:

What’s required from the outside forces who want this mess to go away is unrelenting pressure on Boehner and the supposedly more reasonable Republicans who say they want to open the government and pay our debts. Up to now these Republicans have been the enablers of the tea party faction. They’re the ones who must become the “adults in the room,” because they’re the ones who allowed all this to happen. The tea party folks at least know what they believe in and fight for it. The rest of the Republican Party cowers before them, lacking both conviction and courage.

* A WAY OUT OF THE CRISIS? Norman Ornstein has a good column explaining that, No, GOP debt ceiling extortion has not been business as usual at all, as Republicans claim, meaning any deal to end the crisis should include a permanent disabling of the debt limit as leverage. Ornstein suggests swapping transfer of the debt limit to the president for something like repeal of the medical device tax, which wouldn’t cut at the core of the law.

I don’t know if such an endgame is possible or not. But as Ornstein says, anything raising the debt limit now but tying the next hike to further talks would be a disaster, and as best as I can determine, Dems remain united in agreement with this.

 * GOP DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO END THE BRINKMANSHIP: Brian Beutler on the folly of shifting the extortion demands from Obamacare to entitlement cuts, which could end up compromising Republicans among the very white voters they will need if their efforts to broaden the party’s appeal continue to falter. As Beutler notes, the GOP’s best route right now would be to stiff-arm the Tea Party and cut the party’s losses. But it can’t do that, because “they’ve made it very hard to extract themselves from this cycle of brinkmanship.”

* SOME BAD NEWS FOR OBAMACARE: A new Associated Press poll finds that three fourths of those who tried to sign on to the exchanges reported problems, and only seven percent said their rollout had gone well. Bad. But what will really matter in the long run is whether the law works in a fundamental sense — whether enough people determine the exchanges offer them a good product and sign up. We won’t have a good answer until some time next year.

Republicans will jump on this poll as proof the law is a catastrophe, but remember, this is partly about persuading folks who might be inclined to sign on to its benefits to give up on it, in hopes of making the law a failure over time.

Update: The AP poll’s internals appear to show that 27% said the rollout went well, not seven percent, as the initial AP story claims.

* AND DEMS HOLDING LEAD IN VIRGINIA: Another poll, this one from Quinnipiac, shows Dem Terry McAuliffe holding a sizable lead over GOPer Ken Cuccinelli, 47-39. Notably, 59 percent oppose defunding Obamacare; 71 percent oppose a government shutdown as a weapon against it; and 64 percent oppose using the threat of default in the same fashion.

This might mean suggestions that the national GOP’s extortion tactics are hurting Cuccinelli are proving right. A defeat in Virginia — combined with a cave in the shutdown and debt limit fights — would be quite the trifecta for the Tea Party…

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.