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Boehner: 'I don't want the United States to default on its debt, but...'

Beltway reassurances unpersuasive as crisis looms
House Speaker John Boehner arrives for work at the U.S. Capitol, October 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.
House Speaker John Boehner arrives for work at the U.S. Capitol, October 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Over the last few months, the conventional wisdom has been that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is talking tough about a debt-ceiling crisis, but he won't actually follow through on his threats. The inept Speaker will huff and puff, we've been assured, but he'll pull back before actually blowing our house down. In fact, the argument goes, now that Boehner has shut down the government, the odds he'll also push the nation into default are even more remote.

Indeed, just last week, the New York Times reported that Boehner has already told his members that he won't let the nation default, and will rely on Democratic votes if he has to. On Friday's show, former Rep. Steve LaTourette (R) told Rachel, "We're not going to default. I'm going to tell you, John Boehner is a friend of mine. We're both from Ohio. I served with him for 18 years. He's not going to let that happen."

And yet, on the other hand, we have Boehner and his chief spokesperson saying the exact opposite. Who's right? Let's recap the two facts we know for sure.

First, the debt ceiling must be raised by next week. Let me say that again: the debt ceiling must be raised by next week. We're not talking about a distant horizon; the deadline is literally 10 days away and Congress hasn't even lifted a finger on this.

Second, if you listen to what Boehner himself says, the crisis is both terrifying and intensifying. The beleaguered Speaker sat down with ABC's George Stephanopoulos yesterday.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They're saying it's at risk because of your refusal to pass a clean debt limit. There have been some reports--BOEHNER: We're not going to pass a clean debt limit increase.STEPHANOPOULOS: Under no circumstances?BOEHNER: I told the president, there's no way we're going to pass one. The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit. And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us.STEPHANOPOULOS: So under no circumstances will you pass a clean debt limit?BOEHNER: We're not going down that path.

The Speaker added that failing to raise the debt ceiling next week would produce an economic disaster, but Boehner is nevertheless prepared to start hurting Americans on purpose unless President Obama agrees to "have a conversation" about meeting Republicans' demands and paying the Republicans' ransom.

The Beltway conventional wisdom keeps telling me we have nothing to worry about. Since all I have to go on is what Boehner actually says out loud, I find their assurances unpersuasive.

What's more, don't miss this exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're saying you want a conversation now about changes in Social Security, changes in Medicare, changes in entitlements? Would you be willing to accept what the president has demanded for that kind of a negotiation, having new revenues as part of the discussion?BOEHNER: The president got $850 billion -- $650 billion of new revenues on January the 1st. He got his revenues. Now, it's time to talk about the spending problem.STEPHANOPOULOS: So that's a no?BOEHNER: Very simple. We're not raising taxes.

Let's be very clear about Boehner's position. According to his own assessment of the crisis he personally created, the Speaker will ignore his responsibilities to the nation and crash the economy deliberately unless the White House agrees to "negotiations." Once those negotiations begin, the Speaker, according to his own declaration on national television, is not prepared to accept any concessions.

In other words, Boehner's stated position is that the party that won the election should make major concessions to the party that lost the election in exchange for nothing. If the party that won the election balks at this attempted extortion, Republicans will start hurting Americans on purpose.

Boehner's allies keep offering a defense: don't worry; he's brazenly lying and the Speaker won't actually shoot the hostage (i.e., us). But if they're wrong, and the weak and incompetent "leader" isn't bluffing, the consequences for you and me will be severe.

With 10 days remaining, this is about the time Boehner should be inching away from the cliff. Yesterday on national television, he seemed to be sprinting towards it.