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Chaos governing

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In today’s exercise in Fiscal Fraudulence, Republicans are making it clear they’ve decided they don’t want to enter into budget negotiations with Democrats until the debt ceiling deadline gets a good deal closer. “The debt limit is the backstop,” Paul Ryan says. “I’d like to go through regular order and get something done sooner rather than later. But we need to get a down payment on the debt. We need entitlement reform.”

In other words, Republicans know they don’t have the leverage to force spending cuts or tax reform right now — in standard budget negotiations — without agreeing to the increased revenues from the rich Obama and Democrats will insist on as conditions for any deficit reduction deal. So they would rather do nothing and wait until they can use the threat of default to game the process in their favor.

This is the GOP strategy, explicitly and openly. Brian Beutler aptly sums up the dynamic:

It really all comes down to the fact that Republicans can’t negotiate budget policy without the threat of a debt default looming over the whole process…Republicans don’t want to go to conference unconditionally because they’re concerned their position won’t hold politically and they’ll ultimately be forced to swallow a compromise that includes tax increases — unless the whole process gets swallowed by another debt limit fight.

Kevin Drum has similar thoughts:

Republicans are flatly refusing to even start budget negotiations until they can threaten default on the national debt if they don’t get their way. Apparently this is literally the only way they’re now willing to do business.

It’s actually even crazier than Beutler and Drum say. Republicans are not willing to enter into fiscal negotiations without being able to wield the threat of crashing the economy to get their way — even as they have already revealed they are not willing to actually crash the economy to get their way. We already know Republicans are not willing to allow default. As you’ll recall, they caved during the last debt ceiling fight. More recently, John Boehner flatly admitted: “I’m not going to risk the full faith and credit of the federal government.” And Republicans are also set to vote on a bill (a nonstarter for Dems) that would allow Treasury to raise the debt ceiling just to pay off bondholders — with the goal of being able to continue demanding concessions in exchange for raising the debt limit while simultaneously avoiding default. That alone is yet another admission that Republicans are not willing to allow default to actually happen.

And so the GOP position, with no exaggeration, is this: Of course we’re not crazy and irresponsible enough to allow default to wreck the economy, but Democrats should pretend we are indeed crazy enough to do just that, so that we can win concessions from them in exchange for coming down (hint, hint, wink, wink) from the ledge.

What all of this ultimately comes down to is that GOP leaders don’t have any endgame here. They don’t know how to get House Tea Partyers to agree to any constructive way out of this mess. They can’t get them to agree to a deficit reduction deal that includes new revenues. They can’t get them to agree to raise the debt ceiling without securing concessions from Dems that Dems are not willing to give up — but they also know that failure to raise it, and flirting with economic Armageddon, will be politically disastrous for the party. Remember, when they caved on the debt limit last time, GOP leaders were able to tell conservatives that the better course of action was to use the looming sequester deadline to force concessions. But they won’t have that option this time, and conservatives will likely be in no mood for a cave in the debt limit match-up’s second round.

And so, in the days ahead, you’ll hear top Democrats continue to amplify the case that the so-called “Boehner Rule” — in which Republicans insist on dollar-for-dollar spending cuts in exchange for the debt limit hike — is a dead letter. You’ll hear them continue to call on Republicans to stop allowing Tea Party intransigence to exert total control over budget strategy. You’ll hear them demand an end to chaos governing. But we’re probably stuck with chaos governing for the foreseeable future. Anyone see any way out of this?