President Obama has said, repeatedly and in no uncertain terms, that he'll negotiate with congressional Republicans about practically everything -- except the debt ceiling. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is convinced the president will abandon that posture soon, and start agreeing to give the GOP far-right goodies in exchange for nothing.
Boehner's caucus believes the same thing. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told The Hill, "When Obama says he's not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling, that's just baloney. Ultimately, he will" (thanks to reader F.B. for the tip).
Here's the issue Republicans don't seem to appreciate: Obama can't negotiate on this. It's just not an option because there's more at stake than just a fight over the nation's finances.
Matt Yglesias touched on this yesterday.
The one thing Obama absolutely cannot do under any circumstances is negotiate over the statutory debt limit.The reason is that Republicans are essentially asking for an end to constitutional government in the United States and its replacement by a wholly novel system.
This will seem like an overly obvious question, but in the American tradition, how does a bill become a law? I mean, in the "Schoolhouse Rock" model? Anyone familiar with Civics 101 knows the answer: a lawmaker has an idea, introduces a bill, and starts the legislative process. There are hearings, committee votes, and floor votes. A successful bill will go to other chamber, and ultimately, to the White House for presidential consideration.
The legislative process is difficult, frustrating, and time consuming. It's filled with pitfalls and choke points. There's arm-twisting and horse-trading. For a bill to become law takes patience and a willingness to compromise.
But this is a feature, not a bug. The process is designed to be hard. It's supposed to be this way.
It's become quite clear, however, that this is a process Republicans no longer have any use for. It's tiresome and fails to offer the results they prefer, so GOP lawmakers have decided to circumvent it altogether -- why follow the American model when extortion is so much more efficient?
Take another look at the ransom note House Republicans put together this week. It is, in effect, the policy agenda the nation would see if Democrats hadn't won the 2012 elections. GOP leaders are, in effect, asking Democrats to adopt the Romney/Ryan platform, election results be damned.
But that's not all they're saying. By presenting such a lengthy wish list of far-right goodies, Republicans are also bypassing the lessons they should have learned from "Schoolhouse Rock." They want to delay the Affordable Care Act? They could write a bill and hope to pass it, or they could take the nation hostage and demand they get their way. They want to destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Republicans could offer legislation, or they could threaten to crash the economy on purpose.
And if Obama caves and starts negotiating, a precedent will be set -- impatient lawmakers who simply want instant gratification on proposals that can't become law through the American legislative process can simply threaten the nation with deliberate harm and get some or all of what they want.
Elections used to be about governing opportunities, but they can instead dictate who'll write the ransom notes and who'll read them.
It's precisely why Jon Chait said Obama has to stick to his guns "to preserve the constitutional structure of American government."
I can appreciate why that may seem overly dramatic, but this isn't a typical crisis and the Republican threats aren't typical tactics.