October 10, 2013

As I write this, lots of people are reacting to Speaker John Boehner’s proposal for a six-week debt limit extension . . . but we still don’t really know exactly what the proposal looks like. The details are terribly important in these things.

Meanwhile, a few notes:

1. The Democrats have this exactly right: They should not offer anything for extending the debt limit or for re-opening the government, two moves which both sides support.

2. This means that Democrats have no choice but to accept a clean debt-limit extension (or government funding bill, if that’s available) of any length at all.

3. Where it gets fuzzier is if Republicans propose something that isn’t exactly “clean.” If the add-ons are cosmetic, Democrats probably (again, depending on details) should accept it. If it includes Republican policy gains or Republican-favoring procedural gains, then Democrats should reject it. But if it’s just some meaningless mumbo-jumbo tossed in so that Republicans can claim a victory (or at least pretend there was no defeat), then Democrats should accept it.

4. I’ve seen some liberals argue that the only acceptable outcome at this point is to force Republicans to accept clear, unambiguous, humiliating defeat. That’s nuts. Sure, it would be nice, but put away any fantasies about destroying the tea party’s influence on Republicans. That’s not going to happen.

5. I’ve also seen some confusion about negotiating with a debt-limit countdown in the background if a short-term extension were to pass. Here’s the thing: It’s destructive and illegitimate hostage-taking to demand concessions in order for the government to open or for the debt limit to be raised. However, there’s nothing really wrong with using these kinds of deadlines for mutual bargaining pressure. Granted, the debt limit is a lot worse to use than a threat of a government shutdown because even getting close to it is risky.

6. What Republicans owe everyone, on the other hand, is some clear statement about exactly why they believe whatever it is they are doing is a sufficient reason for a government shutdown. Everyone has been focused on the debt limit part of this, and I understand that, but it has to be emphasized just how irresponsible it is to have shut down the government to begin with. It’s even worse to spend a week on spin rather than actually explaining what they want and why a government shutdown is a reasonable way to try to get it — why, that is, that they won’t negotiate unless the government is shut down.

7. And what reporters need to do, still, is to ask Republicans why they believe the government should be shut down.