GOP debt-ceiling hostage strategy takes shape

Updated
GOP debt-ceiling hostage strategy takes shape
GOP debt-ceiling hostage strategy takes shape
Associated Press

I simply lack the adjectives to describe how ridiculous this is.

A government shutdown is looming on Oct. 1. But don’t worry about it.

That’s the message the House Republican leadership and its allies are spreading as Congress moves toward a fiscal showdown with President Barack Obama and the Democrats, a clash with huge political and economic ramifications for both parties.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and their allies are instead privately urging rank and file to forgo a clash over government funding – and a possible government shutdown – and instead dig in against Obama and the Democratic Senate when the debt ceiling needs to be lifted sometime next month.

We talked on Friday about the various options available to the House Republican leadership when it comes to avoiding a government shutdown at the end of the month, and I sketched out what I see as the four most likely scenarios. It appears Boehner and his team are going with the single most reckless and dangerous approach possible.

The deadline for a debt-ceiling increase may come as quickly as five weeks from now. Boehner and GOP leaders know they’ll have to raise the limit; they know the consequences of failure are likely to be catastrophic; and they know that they did real harm to the country when they deliberately created the first-ever debt ceiling crisis in American history two years ago.

And yet, they’re willing – in fact, Republicans are eager – to put Americans through this nightmare again. They want to trade one hostage (“give us what we want or we’ll shut down the government”) for another (“give us what we want or we’ll trash the full faith and credit of the United States, push the nation into default, and likely crash the economy on purpose”).

I continue to find this item from Ezra Klein compelling: “Trading a government shutdown for a debt-ceiling breach is like trading the flu for septic shock. And Boehner knows it. Republicans will effectively be going to the White House and saying, ‘Delay the health-care law or we will single-handedly cause an unprecedented and unnecessary global financial crisis that everyone will clearly and correctly blame on us, destroying our party for years to come.’ … This is not a safe way to govern the country.”

The White House’s National Economic Council reminded reporters yesterday that even having a debate about the debt ceiling does real harm to the nation.

So perhaps someone can explain to me why the Republican Party’s willingness to threaten Americans with deliberate harm isn’t a serious national scandal.

At a certain level, I’m probably understating matters. Consider this tidbit from late last week.

And in private discussions, GOP leadership aides acknowledge they have absolutely no idea how they’ll lift the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.

Got that? In five weeks, House Republicans will have to raise the debt ceiling, but they haven’t the foggiest idea as to how to get that done.

Boehner admitted to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a private session last week that he is not even sure he has the votes to pass a debt ceiling package with entitlement cuts. […]

Boehner also has assured Wall Street and K Street that he will not allow the U.S. government to default on its debt – effectively removing some of his leverage in the battle.

Under sane circumstances, this would be about the point at which Boehner and his leadership team responsibly start preparing their caucus to do right by the country. But they’re not. Instead, GOP leaders are playing for time, asking their members to avoid a government shutdown and apply real pressure during a crisis of their own making.

For his part, President Obama continues to say he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, a posture some in the media apparently disapprove of. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos sat down the president yesterday and characterized the president’s position as one of obstinacy. “Are you still absolutely refusing to talk [to congressional Republicans], in any way, shape or form?” Stephanopoulos asked. Twice more, the host pressed Obama as if the president was being uncooperative with Congress: “They say they need changes in Obamacare. You say you’re not gonna negotiate.”

A viewer who didn’t know the facts might come away with the impression that there’s a crisis looming, but the president is unwilling to compromise. In reality, Obama has said he’s open to compromises on the budget; he’s open to compromises on taxes and spending; he’s open to compromises on the sequestration cuts; he’s even open to compromises on immigration, the farm bill, and just about everything else.

But the president said he can’t negotiate with those holding the nation hostage. Obama told Stephanopoulos:

“That’s never happened before. And when it comes to budgets, we’ve never had the situation in which a party said that– you know, ‘Unless we get our way 100%, then we’re gonna let the United States default.’ That’s never happened, George. That didn’t happen when you were workin’ here in the White House. […]

“George, I think it’s fair to say that never in history have we used just making sure that the U.S. government is paying its bills as a lever to radically cut government at the kind of scale that they’re talking about. It’s never happened before. There’ve been negotiations around the corners, because nobody had ever presumed that you’d actually threaten the United States to default. […]

“George, here’s the problem. If we continue to set a precedent in which a president, any president, a Republican president, a Democratic president, where the opposing party controls the House of Representatives, if that president is in a situation in which each time the United States is called upon to pay its bills, the other party can simply sit there and say, ‘Well, we’re not gonna pay the bills unless you give us what we want,’ that changes the constitutional structure of this government entirely.”

Government Shutdowns, Debt, John Boehner and Debt Ceiling

GOP debt-ceiling hostage strategy takes shape

Updated