As recently as three days ago, some of the leading Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill were eager to rattle their sword: it’s time for another debt-ceiling crisis, they said, and if Democrats fail to meet GOP demands, Republicans are prepared to start hurting the country on purpose.
Away from the cameras, though, the party is quietly putting that sword back in its sheath.
House Republicans are getting ready to surrender: There will be no serious fight over the debt limit.The most senior figures in the House Republican Conference are privately acknowledging that they will almost certainly have to pass what’s called a clean debt ceiling increase in the next few months, abandoning the central fight that has defined their three-year majority.
This doesn’t come as a surprise. The notion that GOP lawmakers would deliberately crash the economy in an election year – in advance of a cycle about which they’re feeling quite optimistic – has always been far-fetched. Of course they’re getting ready to surrender; the catastrophic alternative was never credible in the first place.
The question, though, isn’t why Republicans are backing down. Rather, it’s why Republicans chose to pick a fight they knew in advance they were destined to lose.
I’m not suggesting GOP strategists necessarily must be experts in game theory or play chess at a grandmaster level, but party leaders should be able to think a couple of moves ahead.
A year ago, Republicans said they would hold the debt ceiling hostage unless Democrats met vague demands. Democrats said they wouldn’t negotiate with those who threaten deliberate harm to the country. Republicans backed down.
Six months later, Republicans again said they would hold the debt ceiling hostage unless Democrats met vague demands. Democrats again said they wouldn’t negotiate with those who threaten deliberate harm to the country. Republicans, on cue, backed down once more.
With this recent history in mind, these exact same GOP leaders thought it’d be a great idea to once again declare they would hold the debt ceiling hostage unless Democrats met vague demands. These weren’t no-name backbenchers or the kooky contingent (Bachmann, Gohmert, et al) making ridiculous threats – we’re talking about Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the top Republican on Capitol Hill.
And now they’re having to slink away, just we knew all along they would, taking a little more of their credibility away with them.
Indeed, the whole fight in October was about precedent-setting – if the Obama White House got a clean debt-ceiling bill then, Democrats would establish a precedent and the entire extortion strategy would be permanently left in tatters. That’s exactly what happened, which makes it all the more curious that GOP leaders decided to give this another try, three short months later.
Of course, staffers quietly telling Politico that Republicans are getting ready to surrender isn’t exactly the same as actually surrendering, and there is no clean debt-ceiling bill pending in either chamber. Lawmakers, whether they like it or not, will have to pass an increase sometime over the next four weeks.