The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Morning Plum: Republicans surrendering on debt limit? Not so fast!

With House Republicans meeting on their retreat to set strategy for 2014, the GOP leadership faces another major test of whether it is really willing to defy the Tea Party and enter a new phase of constructive governing, as John Boehner’s public rebuke of conservative groups seemed to suggest. We’re talking about the battle over the debt ceiling.

The widespread belief in Washington is that Republicans are set for another surrender, and that outcome seems likely. But the Wall Street Journal reports that there’s still another possibility, although Republican leaders appear cool to it:

Republican leaders have been cautiously trying to tamp down expectation that they can win something big in this fight. They are expected to present their caucus with a rather blunt scenario at the retreat – if they are going to demand something in exchange for the debt ceiling, they better be unified in their “ask.” […]
House Speaker John Boehner is likely to remind his colleagues at the retreat how the October government shutdown cost their party politically, and warn that another fiscal fight could backfire if misplayed…That being said, GOP leadership could face a big revolt if they decide to throw in the towel a month before Treasury’s deadline. Republican leaders are likely to emerge from the retreat with a few conditions for raising the debt ceiling, and they could bring some of the ideas up for a vote to test party unity.

Okay, so there’s no “surrender” just yet. Republicans may well decide that if they can muster unity, they will vote on as-yet-uncertain “conditions” for a debt ceiling hike. They just don’t know yet what extortion demand they can unify behind. (Details, details.) Meanwhile, Senate Dems are reiterating their assertion that they will not negotiate over the debt limit, demanding House Republicans agree to a clean hike, to build on the good will from the recent sequester-relieving budget deal.

I think it’s all but certain that this latest hint of brinksmanship to come is probably for show, and that the chances of another serious standoff are remote after two previous debt limit caves. But if there’s something to it, the group to watch are mainstream House conservatives. Tea Party conservatives in the House have already suffered three major defeats — the government shutdown debacle, the budget deal, and this week, the farm bill.  As Jonathan Bernstein has explained, when mainstream House conservatives want something to happen, it happens, and a coalition of them and Democrats can come together to prevail over the Tea Party.

This may turn out to be another one of those times. Republican leaders have already said they don’t want another debt limit fight, which could damage the party heading into the 2014 elections. It seems very likely many mainstream House conservatives agree. Not only that, Dem have openly telegraphed that they believe another debt limit fight could be a winner for them in 2014, and they are relishing the possibility that internal GOP bickering over whether to stage another debt ceiling hostage crisis could again divide the party.

Indeed, anything that batters the House GOP image even more could really matter in this year’s elections. But that brings us to our next item.

* HOUSE GOP COULD IMPERIL GOP SENATE CHANCES: Related to the above: Jonathan Weisman has a good piece explaining that the state of public opinion about House Republicans could make a real difference in the battle for control of the Senate. Here’s why:

To take control of the Senate, Republicans need to net six seats, and they will probably need to do it with candidates currently serving in House seats in Montana, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia and Georgia…In 2012, Republicans fielded House members or former House members in Senate contests in North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico and Arizona. Six of them lost.

Georgia is really key to this; it’s the only one of those five Senate seats that is current GOP-controlled, and the primary is shaping up as a Tea Party free for all, with Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun and Jack Kingston all vying for the nomination. If an extreme candidate emerges, enabling Michelle Nunn and Dems to somehow pick off this seat, it makes the road to a GOP Senate takeover much steeper.

* REPUBLICANS SEARCH FOR PLAN TO HELP MIDDLE CLASS: Meanwhile, Zachary Goldfarb has a great piece detailing the growing GOP recognition that the party needs to get behind an affirmative agenda for helping poor and struggling middle class Americans. This is the rub of the problem:

As they cast about for ideas, Republicans are struggling to find policies that match the simplicity and gut appeal of such Democratic proposals as raising the minimum wage without violating core conservative principles by increasing spending or interfering with market forces.

Yes, to help increase economic mobility, you’re going to have to spend some money. Some conservative reform types have admitted this. But many in the party don’t appear prepared to do the same.

* CHARLIE CRIST COMFORTABLY LEADS RICK SCOTT: A new Quinnipiac poll finds Democrat Charlie Crist with an eight point lead in his bid to oust GOP Governor Rick Scott, 46-38. The minimum wage hike is favored in Florida by 73-24, even as it’s set to become a more prominent issue here and elsewhere. Crist leads Scott in nearly every measure, from the economy to health care — where Crist has hit Scott for dragging his feet on the Medicaid expansion, which Dems are using as an issue against other Dem governors, too.

* BRIDGEGATE SCANDAL GETS WORSE: The New York Times does a deep reporting dive into allegations by Hoboken’s mayor concerning Christie administration pressure to approve a big office development, pressure she has alleged was also made in connection with Hurricane Sandy aid. The key ground broken by the Times here includes new emails and interviews that “make clear that the development-wary mayor was coming under increasing and repeated pressure from politically connected lawyers working for Rockefeller Group and from the Christie administration.” Meanwhile…

* CHRIS CHRISTIE’S NUMBERS IN THE TOILET: A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that Chris Christie’s favorable rating is sitting at all of 35 percent, while a plurality believes (46-43) that Bridgegate is a “sign of broader problems with Christie’s leadership.” Even worse, independents — to whom Christie’s no-nonsense above-politics persona is supposed to have so much appeal — are split on Christie, 35-40.

* HOW ABOUT AN EXECUTIVE ORDER ON ENDA? Obama has announced that he will now exercise executive authority to a new degree. We have since learned the House will not act on the Employment Non-Discrimination The administration has said it prefers legislative action on ENDA, but now that this won’t happen, John Aravosis puts two and two together: “the floor has pretty much fallen out of the White House’s excuse for not doing an ENDA executive order.”

Also, there is direct precedent for an ENDA executive order — an EO was used to ban racial discrimination in hiring by federal contractors, too.

* AND THE NIGHTMARE SCENARIO FOR IMMIGRATION REFORMERS: Brian Beutler raises a key possibility: What happens if Republicans agree to legalization for the 11 million, but on the condition that reform precludes citizenship for them?

In human terms, would actual immigrants (and their citizen children) prefer no bill at all to a bill that at least lets them work and live freely in the U.S. in perpetuity? Particularly if they could turn right around and begin organizing for a fight over the singular issue of guaranteed citizenship in 2016 and beyond?…I have seen and known plenty of people living in fear of deportation, and many of them would welcome relief from that fear.

As noted here yesterday, other battles loom before this one, such as the question of whether the 11 million will get legalization in the first place. But the question of whether Republicans can get to legalization without precluding citizenship is also a big, important unknown.

What else?