Boehner’s dangerous incoherence on the debt ceiling

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The nation still has some time before there’s any kind of debt-ceiling crisis to worry about, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) continues to argue that he and his party intend to create this crisis, on purpose, unless their hostage demands are met.

Boehner told reporters this morning that congressional Republicans are “not going to raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending. It’s as simple as that.” He added, “I believe the so-called Boehner Rule is the right formula for getting that done.”

Given how important this is – we’re talking about a crisis that could crash the economy and destroy the full faith and credit of the United States – it’s important to appreciate the extent to which the Speaker is dangerously incoherent. The man simply has no idea what he’s talking about, but when he plays with fire he doesn’t understand, it’s all of us who get burned.

As we discussed a while back, Boehner came up with this manufactured “rule” in 2011: for every dollar the debt limit goes up, Democrats have to give an equal, dollar-for-dollar amount of spending cuts. What was the substantive policy rationale for the rule? There wasn’t one – the Speaker, who’s never been especially interested in the details of policymaking, simply thought it sounded nice, so he adopted it, called it a “rule,” and demanded that literally everyone involved in the process accept it as gospel.

Two weeks ago, leading House Republicans decided they’d have to think of something else, because the “Boehner Rule” no longer makes any substantive sense. Today, Boehner decided he still likes the made-up rule after all.

This is, for lack of a better word, madness.

The Speaker of the House and his caucus did real harm to the nation in 2011, when they launched the first-ever debt-ceiling crisis in American history. It was arguably the first time since the Civil War that the entirety of a U.S. political party in Congress said it was prepared to deliberately hurt Americans unless their demands were met.

The effect on the economy was severe. Boehner now wants to do it all again.

At least, that is, he says he wants to do it all again. The Washington Post reported in May, “[M]ost GOP lawmakers agree that they probably should not block a debt-limit increase, halt Treasury borrowing and let the government default on its obligations. According to GOP aides who attended the meeting, the ‘hell no’ caucus appears to be radically diminished.” Indeed, Boehner himself admitted in March, “I’m not going to risk the full faith and credit of the federal government.”

So, let’s recap. In recent months, Republicans have said they won’t block a debt-ceiling increase and will block a debt ceiling increase. They won’t risk the full faith and credit of the United States and they will risk the full faith and credit of the United States. They won’t stick to the made-up Boehner Rule and they will stick to the made-up Boehner Rule.

Can anyone explain how it’s possible to take this dangerous nonsense seriously?

Even this morning, Boehner said congressional Republicans are “not going to raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending.” What cuts? Boehner doesn’t know. To what end? Boehner doesn’t know. At what cost to the economy? Boehner doesn’t know. He just wants unspecified cuts because he thinks they sound nice.

It’s almost as if spoiled children seized control of part of the federal government and don’t appreciate just how much damage their recklessness can do.

The White House, meanwhile, continues to insist the administration will not negotiate with lawmakers threatening to harm the country on purpose. Just yesterday, Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “We’ve made clear we’re not going to negotiate with Congress over Congress’s responsibility to pay the bills that it’s already racked up. We’re just not.” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said something similar over the weekend, telling Fareed Zakaria, “The president has made very clear that we will not negotiate over whether or not the government should default and we will not get into a negotiation like 2011, over the debt ceiling.”

The last time the White House stuck to its guns, the GOP backed down. Stay tuned.

Debt, John Boehner and Debt Ceiling

Boehner's dangerous incoherence on the debt ceiling

Updated