Opinion writer

So it looks like John Boehner may be contemplating a scenario that will get conservatives very, very angry but could spare the rest of us from a whole lot of noisy drama. Politico reports:

House Speaker John Boehner is looking to move a bill to lift the debt ceiling before he leaves Congress, a tactic aimed at helping his successor, according to multiple sources with knowledge of internal party planning.

Timing has not been decided, but the Treasury Department says the nation’s borrowing limit needs to be raised by Nov. 5, and Boehner (R-Ohio) would like to resolve the issue before a new speaker is sworn in. Boehner expects to step down Oct. 30. His office declined to comment for this story.

Boehner is in discussions with Senate leadership and the White House over a budget package that would include raising the debt ceiling, but House GOP aides do not expect the talks to produce an agreement. GOP leadership aides have discussed passing a standalone debt limit bill should the talks break down. Many senior Republican aides and lawmakers see a “clean” debt limit bill as the only real option.

This continues to get lost in discussions of this issue, but GOP leaders actually want to raise the debt limit, and they know beyond any doubt that they will end up doing just that in the end. In previous debt limit standoffs, GOP leaders have agreed that default will hurt the economy. And according to Politico’s reporting, Boehner knows that raising the debt limit this time would spare his successor — and his party — a major headache.

Thus, if and when Republicans do demand later on in this process that Democrats make concessions in exchange for Republican cooperation in raising the debt limit, Republicans will be asking Democrats to give them something in exchange for what they themselves want to happen to prevent massive harm to their own party and the country.

Meanwhile, over in the Senate, Mitch McConnell is actually gearing up to insist on just this sort of concession:

Mitch McConnell privately wants the White House to pay this price to enact a major budget deal: Significant changes to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and funding the government.

Several people familiar with the high-stakes fiscal negotiations said the Senate majority leader’s staff is trying to drive a hard bargain in the private talks with the White House and Democratic leaders.

Now, maybe McConnell knows he’s not going to get unilateral concessions in exchange for refraining from hurting the country, and is just leaking this so conservatives think he’s “fighting.” But whatever the motive for this leak, it’s just a bunch of baloney. As Steve Benen notes, “these dangerous schemes only work if your rival believes you’re fully prepared to kill the hostage – and in this case, McConnell lacks all credibility.” This is especially true, now that we know Boehner is looking to raise it, very likely cleanly, to save his party from a huge political mess.

Conservatives will of course scream betrayal if Republican leaders do move to raise the debt limit with a minimum of damage to the country, without getting anything in return for it. But as I noted here yesterday, we have come a long way from 2011, when the political incentives were stacked in a way that really did give Republicans leverage to extract concessions in fiscal standoffs. But in repeated confrontations since Obama won reelection in 2012, the President and Democrats have revealed that this leverage is a phantom. The political incentives now all point the other way.

The point is that conservatives pushing for more such standoffs know this. They know the tactic will fail, and are only urging it on for their own cynical reasons. Whether or not Boehner actually ends up sparing us the needless drama of a protracted confrontation, the fact that he’s looking to resolve this without one itself confirms how this will ultimately end, no matter what has to happen along the way. And there’s no need for anyone to pretend otherwise.