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The Morning Plum: Dems think they’re killing debt limit GOP extortion for good

The broad outlines of a deal to end the crisis are now emerging from the Senate: It would lift the debt limit until February 7th, reopen the government through January 15th, and trigger budget talks to replace the sequester. There’s some last minute haggling over minor Obamacare concessions. House Republicans will seek changes to the deal, and it’s unclear whether they’ll even allow a vote on it.

The question about the deal is this: Given that the next debt limit deadline looms just after the date on which government funding runs out, doesn’t this just mean we’ll find ourselves in roughly the same situation in a few months, with Republicans demanding concessions in exchange for averting default and economic chaos?

Senate Democratic aides tell me they think the possibility that conservatives will insist on another round of debt limit brinksmanship is very real. But they think they’re on the verge of rendering any such threat an entirely empty one. The idea: Decoupling the debt limit from the budget talks, and placing the debt limit deadline further out, will effectively isolate the debt limit debate and make another default extortion crisis even harder politically. By refusing any meaningful concessions in exchange for a debt limit hike this time — and earlier this year — Dems will have finally killed the “Boehner Rule” (which demands spending cuts in exchange for any hike) and driven home that GOP debt ceiling extortion will never be rewarded again.

“Of course extending the debt limit for a longer period of time would be preferable, but under the circumstances, with Republicans trying to figure out a way to get out of this mess, the idea that the debt limit has been defanged as an extortion tool was enough,” a Senate Dem leadership aide tells me. “Conservatives will still try to bring this up and they still may end up damaging the economy, because it’s been so ingrained that this is a tool that should extract concessions. But it will be hard for anyone to take that claim seriously.” GOP leaders included, presumably.

As I reported yesterday, Dem aides believe Republican tactics have delivered such a massive hit to the GOP that leaders will be even more wary of another default crisis once the 2014 elections are underway. As one aide told me, pressure from the right for another hostage standoff could divide Republicans — particularly if GOP leaders are even more eager to avoid a crisis — and put pressure on 2014 candidates to hew to extremism at an even worse political moment for the party.

One interesting nuance: If a deal is reached, Republicans very well may claim they have preserved the ability to use the debt limit to extort concessions later (as Paul Ryan has already told fellow Republicans). But Dems believe this will be merely bluster from GOP leaders designed to put a positive spin on surrender by telling Tea Partyers they can fight on another day.

I prefer a permanent disabling of debt limit extortion. For now, with Dems insisting their approach does disable it, all we can do is hope they are right.

* THE GOP “SURRENDER CAUCUS”: The New York Times reports that House conservatives are already mobilizing to resist the emerging Senate compromise. This is perfect:

“We’ve got a name for it in the House: it’s called the Senate surrender caucus,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas. “Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger.”

The problem all along has been that House conservatives have redefined funding the government at sequester levels and lifting the debt limit without winning unilateral concessions from Dems as “surrender,” even though those are outcomes most Republicans presumably want. At any rate, this again underscores that there was never any other choice except throwing House conservatives overboard.

* HOUSE CONSERVATIVES REVOLT: Robert Costa has the latest on the thinking among House conservatives:

“What they’ll come up with in the Senate will not get the support of most House Republicans,” predicts a House conservative strategist. “And thus, after a lot of hand-wringing, it’ll be DOA..I expect the focus will soon shift back to the House, and back to the idea of doing a 6-week extension of the debt ceiling.  While Obama and Reid won’t like it, they don’t want to go past Oct. 17, either. The politics of the debt ceiling are different from the shutdown. And so, we feel they’ll reluctantly accept it as a stopgap measure.”

Again, there is no deal that Tea Party conservatives and Obama/Senate Dems will both find acceptable. Therefore, the only way out is through an alliance of non-Tea Party Republicans and Democrats.

* BOEHNER STILL INVOKING “HASTERT RULE”? Buried in the Post’s overview of the emerging Senate deal is this suggestion:

Rep. Tom Cole, a close Boehner ally, said he was confident that McConnell would not sign off on a deal unless Boehner was convinced that it could win a broad majority of Republicans. “McConnell, I don’t think, will deliberately put us in a bad position,” Cole said.

House Republicans can’t pass anything that Obama and Senate Dems will support. Now Senate GOP leaders won’t sign off on anything that has majority support in the House if a majority of just Republicans doesn’t support it, with default looming? I’m skeptical it will come to that.

* GOP TAKING BLAME FOR SHUTDOWN: The new Washington Post/ABC news poll finds truly terrible numbers for the GOP. ABC’s Gary Langer explains:

Criticism of the GOP’s handling of the budget dispute has grown by 11 percentage points since just before the partial government shutdown began, from 63 to 70 and now 74 percent – clearly leaving the party with the lion’s share of blame. Indeed 54 percent now “strongly” disapprove. By contrast, 53 percent disapprove of Obama’s work on the issue, essentially flat since the crisis came to a head and a broad 21 points lower than disapproval of the Republicans.

Individual House Republicans seem primarily concerned with the views of their own constituents, but the question is whether such numbers will prod House GOP leaders into allowing a vote on the emerging Senate deal, even if it will have to pass with a lot of Dems.

* SHUTDOWN FIGHT BADLY HAMPERS GOP REBRANDING: The Post polling team digs into the new Post/ABC poll and finds that 76 percent of independents, and 73 percent of seniors, disapprove of GOP budget shenanigans. Meanwhile, large chunks of non-Tea Party Republicans also disapprove. Conclusion:

In choosing to take the hard-line stance favored by its most conservative wing, Republican leaders in Congress have not only alienated electorally critical independents and other key demographic groups that their 2012 presidential nominee won but also further revealed the deep schism within their own party…the party needs to find a way to broaden its appeal. The shutdown is a clear setback to those efforts at a time when the GOP can ill afford it.

The question is whether all of this is nearly enough to overcome the underlying structural realities that render the GOP House majority all but invulnerable in 2014.

* DEMS HIT VULNERABLE GOP MEMBERS OVER SHUTDOWN: The DCCC is airing new 60-second radio ads that hit ten vulnerable House Republicans for shutting down the government in order to take health benefits away from people. Eventually memories of the shutdown will fade, but the battle over Obamacare will continue into 2014, and GOP efforts to undermine the law — while offering nothing to replace it — will continue to be cited by Dems as a symbol of the Tea Party sabotage governance that has taken over the GOP.

* AND A NOTE ON THOSE MINOR OBAMACARE CONCESSIONS: Jonathan Cohn has the full rundown on the two changes to Obamacare that appear central to the Senate deal. Cliff notes version:

Would the changes now under consideration represent major, fundamental changes to Obamacare? It wouldn’t appear so.

This is key, because it again underscores that Republicans got nothing as a reward for government shutdown and debt limit brinkmanship.

What else?