Democratic aides view today’s House GOP debt ceiling proposal as a clear sign that Republicans will agree to a clean debt limit hike in the end, whether or not Democrats agree to the negotiations Republicans want.
The Democratic view is that Republicans are deliberately keeping their proposal ambiguous on the core question of whether Republicans will or won’t agree to raise the debt limit if Dems don’t agree to their demand for talks even as the government remains closed. The reporting is a bit conflicted on this point. Some reports note that Republicans are demanding a straight, conditional exchange: No debt limit hike unless Dems enter talks. Others, such as this one from National Journal, note that the actual bill Republicans are going to push won’t link the two at all:
There will be no specific language attached to the bill mandating any negotiating framework from the White House. “It’s just a handshake,” said Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana.
The actual text will clear things up, but one thing that is clear is that Republicans don’t want to clarify their intentions on this point. And it’s the deliberate maintenance of ambiguity here that makes Democrats think Republicans will ultimately agree to a clean debt limit even if Dems don’t agree to talks.
The White House is willing to accept a short term debt limit extension. Some on the left are interpreting this as a telegraphing of weakness, but as Brian Beutler spells out, agreeing to that temporary extension — provided it is clean, with no conditions attached — is not the same as getting drawn into talks, in which Republicans can try to use the next debt limit deadline as leverage.
The notion that Republicans would try to use the next debt limit hike as leverage, after caving on it twice in a row (likely now, and earlier this year) seems silly to begin with. But beyond that, if Republicans do make their debt limit hike contingent on Dems agreeing to talks, Democrats in the House don’t have to support it, which could make it hard for Republicans to get it through the House at any rate.
What’s more, as Beutler also notes, the House GOP debt limit scheme isn’t the only vehicle here: “Over in the Senate, Harry Reid is preparing to advance a year-long debt limit extension. If Boehner’s plan capsizes, that’ll be the only ship sailing.”
If Dems are right, and Republicans are indeed telegraphing a cave, there’s a downside. GOP leaders might then decide they have to appease the right by digging in on the government shutdown for an untold period of time. This, even though National Review reports from inside a GOP conference meeting that GOP leaders and Republican moderates are concluding that the shutdown is killing them politically:
From the leadership perspective, the shutdown is deeply hurting Republicans politically. And the polls are backing this up. The GOP’s approval rating in a Gallup poll fell ten points from September, before the shutdown began, to 28 points, the lowest favorable rating for either political party since the firm began asking the question in 1992. In the conference meeting, several members said they were feeling the heat. Representative Tom Reed of New York told the conservatives that those like him, in marginal districts, were weathering the shutdown in order to get to the fight they wanted, and that they should back the short-term debt ceiling increase in kind.
And yet, as National Review notes, in spite of this, today’s events — even if they signal a cave-in-the-making on the debt limit — clearly show conservatives are dictating party strategy, which is now shaped around the idea that if Republicans only keep the government closed long enough, it’s only a matter of time before Democrats cave on Obamacare. We’ve come full circle.