So the big story of the day is that House Tea Partyers are vowing up and down that they may be willing to allow the country to default on its obligations to prove to Obama how serious they are about cutting spending.
Today, at his presser, Obama reiterated that there will be no negotiating over the debt ceiling — no concessions will be granted in exchange for the debt ceiling hike, period, full stop. And he explicitly said that “Congressional Republicans” will bear responsibility when Social Security checks, veterans benefits, and paychecks to food inspectors and air traffic controllers stop going out, and if and when the markets go haywire.
This signals a tough line ahead. Though the key question will be whether it holds, current indications are that it will. Jonathan Chait is encouraged, and sees a day of reckoning of sorts looming for the Tea Party:
Many of us have questioned whether Obama will actually follow through on his stated intention. In these games of chicken, he always seems ready to swerve at the last moment. What’s different here is that Obama seems so determined and explicit not to pay a ransom that he is leaving himself no room to backslide. If he pays the ransom, he’ll leave himself humiliated and exposed in a way he never has.
So the two years Obama and Boehner have spent trying to deflect, delay, and placate the mania of the tea party seem to have finally come to an end point.
What we’re seeing here is the latest sign that House Tea Partyers are simply not going to be playing any constructive or meaningful role over how to move the country forward and place it on a sounder economic and fiscal footing. Indeed, the Tea Party Express released a statement in response to Obama’s presser that is stunningly out of touch with reality:
Polls are showing convincingly that Americans want real spending reform that includes thoughtful budget cuts and pro-growth policies. […] We would be happy to trade spending cuts with debt ceiling increases if the President were prepared to seriously address the excessive spending he has always promoted.
Yes, Tea Party Express, the public is on your side, and you are driving this train. You keep right up with that winning message: If you don’t let us gut popular social programs, we’ll destroy the economy.
During the fiscal cliff battle, John Boehner had to yank plans for a vote on a deal that would have raised tax rates only on income over $1 million, because that was still unacceptable to the Tea Party. The result: Boehner had no choice but to pass a bill with a lot of Democratic support that raised tax rates on far more income — while the Tea Party looked on from the sidelines.
The same thing may be about to happen again. Indeed, the claims from Tea Party members that they want to go into default to force the White House’s hand only underscore the likelihood that that Boehner will be forced again to pass something with a lot of Democrats.
The debt ceiling fight of 2011 represented a kind of zenith (if you can call it that) of Tea Party craziness, intransigence, and hostage taking. Obama lost that battle, but he bounced back and won the presidency. Now, even more so than the fiscal cliff battle, this year’s debt ceiling fight is shaping up as a kind of epic final confrontation — perhaps the Tea Party’s last chance to force Obama to do what the American people emphatically declared in the election that they don’t want, i.e., solve the country’s fiscal problems primarily by dramatically shrinking government, unraveling the safety net, and sparing the rich more sacrifice. And while we should reserve judgment until we see what happens in the end, Obama is certainly behaving like someone who is determined to break the Tea Party once and for all.