All eyes for the last several days have been on the House. That’s the wrong place to look. All we’ve received from the House is yet another confirmation that sensible Republicans there will defer to the crazies indefinitely when it comes to trying to strike a bargain.
So where is the real action? The Senate.
First of all: there’s really no need to study the new Boehner proposal in the House. It takes the two-stage plan to raise the debt limit, which was already set up to make a second stalemate and showdown likely, and makes that stalemate even more likely by requiring that both Houses of Congress pass a Balanced Budget Amendment before approving the longer-term debt limit increase. Since that’s not going to happen, all that means is that we would wind up right back where we are now in December. In other words, instead of passing a Cut, Cap, and Balance proposal as the House already has done, the new Boehner plan is a short delay (with severe budget cuts) followed by Cut, Cap, and Balance. Unlike the original Boehner bill, which I thought was a legitimate (if badly overdue) opening bid, this bill is designed to provide cover for the Speaker and for mainstream conservative Republicans from their Tea Party enemies, not as part of bargaining towards a solution.
There remain maybe four possible ways forward over the next week. One, of course, is no deal at all, with all the economic risks that come with it. The second way forward would be the opposite of that: Some solution imposed by Barack Obama that would mean finding a legal or Constitutional pretext for blowing through the debt limit without new legislation. Many liberals are cheering that solution on, and they may be correct to do so — but they should realize that it would entail a real shift of authority within the US political system from Congress to the White House, one that might be used in the future in ways that liberals might not like so.
The other two ways forward both would have to happen in the Senate. The first would be a real bipartisan solution, and would wind up probably getting some 70 votes from Senators of both parties closest to the center. I’m not convinced that’s likely. The second would be mostly Democrats and would require a dozen or so Republicans to basically accept what Democrats are offering (which, to be sure, is basically already heavily tilted away from liberal priorities). So the question becomes whether such Republicans exist. I suspect they might, especially with John McCain’s latest tantrum putting him back in play, but it’s hard to tell. We now have Scott Brown. Then there are senators Collins, Snow, Corker, Murkowski, McCain, Kirk, Alexander, Hutchison…that’s the group we’re looking at. It’s hard to know for sure, but my guess is that anything that passed the Senate with those Republicans on board could find a slim majority in the House — and that there would be enormous pressure on the Speaker to bring it to the floor, even if he opposed it.
Hey, reporters! The House story ended yesterday the minute the bill was pulled from the floor; what happens now is just internal House Republican conference politics. That might be interesting in its own right but has very little to do with resolving the standoff.