May 8, 2013

Today’s news is about Republican leaders in the House scrambling around to find something that they can blackmail Barack Obama and the Democrats with, so that they can threaten to crash the economy with a government default unless they get it.

Kevin Drum and Brian Buetler interpret this as Republican irresponsibility on the budget. Greg Sargent points out that it’s even worse — Republican leaders in the House, including Speaker John Boehner, have already admitted that they aren’t willing to really force default, so they’re refusing to negotiate for now because they’re waiting until they can threaten to blow up the economy even though they admit they really won’t.


House Speaker John Boehner (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Well, maybe.

I say: It’s worse than that!

As I read this, it’s not really about Republicans demanding debt reduction and using the best leverage they have available to get it. Nor is it about Republicans demanding tax reform — their other possible demand — and using the best leverage they have to get it.

No, it’s the other way around. The House crazy caucus is demanding not debt reduction, not spending cuts, not budget balancing, but blackmail itself. That’s really the demand: The speaker and House Republican leaders absolutely must use the debt limit as extortion. What should they use it to get? Apparently, that’s pretty much up for grabs, as long as it seems really, really, big — which probably comes down to meaning that the Democrats really, really don’t like it.

In other words: I think Greg is correct, and the speaker has decided that he doesn’t actually want to blow past the debt limit. But now he has to find some way to do it without losing his job. And that means satisfying the significant chunk of his conference who demand maximum nuttiness at all times, either because they really believe in it or because they’re terrified to allow any space at all between themselves and those true believers.

It’s the extortion that’s the point. Not the policy.