If given a choice, would you rather think about another debt-ceiling crisis or perform oral surgery on yourself? Or how about sleep on a bed of thumbtacks? Or maybe drop an anvil on your foot?
Well, like it or not, I’m afraid it’s time to consider the latest chapter in a remarkably, painfully stupid story. The debt ceiling is back, and however tempting it may be to ignore it, time is of the essence.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew formally alerted Congress yesterday that lawmakers will have to extend the nation’s borrowing authority by late February – roughly five weeks from now. As has been the case, the White House will not negotiate on this, telling Congress that there can be no negotiations on the full faith and credit of the United States. Either lawmakers raise the debt limit or Congress will push the nation into default.
Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, dismissed that suggestion in his own statement.
“The Speaker has said that we should not default on our debt, or even get close to it, but a ‘clean’ debt limit increase simply won’t pass in the House,” Steel said.
There’s ample evidence that Steel is wrong. A clean debt-limit increase passed the House quite easily just three months ago. I know memories can be short on Capitol Hill, but October 2013 isn’t exactly ancient history – and I guarantee the White House remembers it.
Indeed, therein lies the problem for the Republicans’ plan to hold the nation hostage (again). GOP officials said early last year that they would use the debt ceiling to hurt Americans on purpose unless their demands were met, but they were bluffing – Democrats refused to pay a ransom to entice Republicans to do their job, and in the end, GOP lawmakers caved.
Six months later, Republicans again said they would use the debt ceiling to hurt Americans on purpose unless their demands were met, and once more, they were bluffing.– Dems gave them nothing and Congress passed a clean bill.
And yet, he we are again.
Given the recent past, it’s probably best not to panic too much about a new round of half-hearted GOP threats. Congressional Republicans have already been caught bluffing twice, and with five weeks remaining, party leaders haven’t even bothered to come up with a ransom note, probably because they know it’ll be ignored.
What’s more, Republican officials feel pretty good about their chances in the 2014 midterms and the notion that they’d put their standing at risk by deliberately causing serious damage to the global economy – in an election year, no less – is hard to believe. GOP lawmakers are capable of some extraordinary radicalism, but at a minimum, they’re acutely self-interested most of the time.
That said, the part of this fight that gives me pause is an issue Republicans apparently intend to include in this latest self-imposed crisis. Brian Beutler’s take rings true.
Last time around Republicans entered the combined shutdown and debt limit fights completely clueless about what they hoped to extort, other than that they knew it should come out of the hides of Obama and his supporters. They floated a laughably comprehensive list of demands – the entire roster of Obama accomplishments in exchange for a temporary increase in borrowing authority – but then let it dwindle and dwindle until it disappeared altogether.
This time around, a shutdown is off the table – the government is funded through September. Which means the fight will be centered entirely around the much more dangerous, but much less politically black-and-white debt limit deadline. And this time, I think Republicans will have a single, concrete ransom demand.
And what might that be? Republicans appear likely to say they’ll hurt Americans on purpose unless Democrats agree to scrap risk corridors in the Affordable Care Act. It’s part of the latest sabotage campaign – GOP officials hope to force consumers to pay higher premiums in the hopes of collapsing the federal health care system. They’re even begun calling the existing policy a “bailout” in the hopes of making it seem more controversial.
But it’s likely to be part of the new debt-ceiling standoff anyway, in large part because Republicans are a post-policy party.