This morning, John Boehner made it official: Republicans intend to stage another confrontation over the debt ceiling, and will insist on a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar in any debt limit increase they agree to:
“We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending. It’s as simple as that,” he said at a press conference.
“I believe the so-called Boehner Rule is the right formula for getting that done,” he said, referring to the notion that any increase in the statutory debt limit should be accompanied by an equivalent amount of spending cuts.
The interesting thing about this is that Boehner himself has repeatedly conceded in front of roomfuls of reporters that not raising the debt ceiling could wreak havoc with the U.S. economy.
For instance, as one Democrat points out, back in February, after Republicans had caved in the last debt limit fight, Boehner presented the GOP agreement to raise it at the time as an act of supreme reasonableness on his part — explicitly saying default would have caused extreme damage. He called for Dems to be equally reasonable about the need to cooperate on the deficit, saying:
“We got the debt limit out of the way so that we weren’t jeopardizing the full faith and credit of the United States government. At some point, Washington has to deal with its spending problem. I have watched them kick this can down the road for 22 years that I have been here. I have had enough of it. It’s time to act.”
More recently, in March, during a discussion of the upcoming confrontation, Boehner insisted Republicans would demand concessions in exchange for a debt limit hike, but in the very same appearance he conceded raising it was inevitable, because “I’m not going to risk the full faith and credit of the federal government.”
The other day I noted here that it has become accepted as normal that Republicans threaten untold damage to the country in order to get their way. This is simply no longer arguable. Boehner himself has repeatedly confirmed in front of the national news media that default would do immense damage. But he is nonetheless again demanding concessions — in the form of deep spending cuts — in exchange for not allowing it to happen. Yet this basic context is now considered so unremarkable that it probably won’t make it into most press accounts about Boehner’s comments today.
Yes, a lot of this is posturing: As has been amply documented elsewhere, Boehner is probably saying this sort of thing in order to buy more maneuvering room, given that conservatives are expecting a confrontation. But that’s not a good enough reason for folks to sidestep reckoning with the true nature of what’s going on here. Remember, as Steve Benen reminds us, the 2011 standoff confirmed that the threat of default can end up doing damage, even if we don’t end up defaulting in the end.
The one bright spot is that there are signs there may be less of an appetite for this from other Republicans this time around. John McCain — who led a group of Republican Senators to break with the GOP over the filibuster — has already warned House Republicans that the American people won’t put up with any more debt ceiling “shenanigans.” If there really is a bloc of Senate Republicans who have had it with GOP crisis governing, as increasingly seems to be the case, another round of debt ceiling madness from House Republicans may leave little alternative other than another public break with them.
However likely that is, Democrats are betting that it’s a real possibility. Which makes it all the more likely that the White House will simply refuse to negotiate with Republicans over the debt limit, just as it did earlier this year. After all, last time around, it finally dawned on everyone that the GOP message on the debt ceiling — we would never allow default, because it would damage the economy, but Dems must pretend the debt limit gives us leverage, anyway — was fundamentally untenable. The end result was that Republicans caved. The Republican message is essentially the same this time. If Dems hold the line again, it’s unclear why the outcome would be any different.