The Washington Post

What’s the GOP’s game plan on the debt ceiling?

Is the House Republican leadership developing a pattern of leading GOP Members of Congress into serious and unnecessary trouble?

I ask because something odd is going on with the debt limit strategizing. Republicans have now moved to schedule a vote for next week on a “clean” debt limit increase in the House in order to give all Members of their conference a chance to declare themselves against raising the ceiling without getting significant policy concessions from the president and the Democratic Senate.

While it certainly makes sense for Republicans to attempt to use the debt limit to extract what they can, I wonder what Republicans think they’re gaining from this vote. To be sure, raising the debt limit polls badly. But, you know, sooner or later, they must know that they’re going to have to do it — and surely they know that whatever deal they do strike won’t be for what the Tea Party crowd wants. Do they really think that any Tea Partiers who are unhappy with the final deal are going to excuse them because they added a bogus vote against a clean increase in the limit?

On the other hand, suppose that negotiations collapse, the debt limit isn’t raised, and the resulting mess either inconveniences people (say, if government contractors don’t get paid) or really harms the overall economy. Should that happen, the next step will be to apportion blame. And apparently, House Republicans are about to furnish everyone with the single most clear evidence of blame: they will each be on record, if this vote happens, as taking responsibility for the damage.

So I can’t figure out what House Republican leaders are thinking. Perhaps this is an admission that they’re really just bluffing on the debt limit, and have no intension of risking an impasse. Perhaps there’s some other advantage I’m not seeing. Or perhaps the House leadership team is a lot better at short-term management than longer-term strategy. That seems to be what happened with the 2012 budget vote, which placated conservatives in the short term but stuck House Republicans with an unpopular and unnecessary Medicare vote they’re still struggling with today. To be sure, John Boehner is under plenty of pressure to prove he’s sufficiently conservative, but it sure seems to me that his solutions are increasingly putting his own Members at risk with no apparent gains.


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