In February, reflecting on the debt ceiling, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he didn't want to jeopardize "the full faith and credit of the United States government." A month later, the Republican leader recommitted himself to the same basic idea: "I'm not going to risk the full faith and credit of the federal government."
Apparently, Boehner has changed his mind, and adopted an alarming posture at an Idaho fundraiser yesterday -- the same day as the Treasury Department warned Congress that the debt-ceiling deadline is just eight weeks away.
House Speaker John Boehner said Monday that getting the GOP-controlled House to agree to raising the U.S. debt ceiling will only come with a bipartisan deal to make cost-saving changes to Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, farm programs and government pensions. [...]"I've made it clear that we're not going to increase the debt limit without cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit. The president doesn't think this is fair, thinks I'm being difficult to deal with. But I'll say this: It may be unfair but what I'm trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We're going to have a whale of a fight."
According to the Idaho Statesman's report, Boehner went on to tell Republican donors that they should expect a replay of the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis that did severe damage to the country.
"I wish I could tell you it was going to be pretty and polite, and it would all be finished a month before we'd ever get to the debt ceiling. Sorry, it just doesn't work that way," Boehner said. "If this were easy to do, somebody over the last 20 or 30 years would have gotten it done. We're going to do it this fall."
You'll probably in your life never again hear a House Speaker use rhetoric this reckless and threatening to the nation's wellbeing.
Boehner admitted he's abandoning "fairness" -- how reassuring -- but he feels the need to threaten deliberate harm to Americans anyway.
Part of the problem is the Speaker's willingness to hold us hostage. The other part of the problem is that he doesn't seem to understand the basics of what he's talking about.
Let's unwrap this, point by point.
* "I've made it clear that we're not going to increase the debt limit without cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit." In July, House Republicans abandoned this standard because it didn't make any substantive sense. Yesterday, Boehner stuck to it anyway, for reasons that only make sense to him.
* "I wish I could tell you it was going to be pretty and polite.... Sorry, it just doesn't work that way." Well, it could work that way, and it used to work that way. Between 1939 and 2010, Congress raised the debt limit 89 times. In recent years, many of those votes were cast by a guy named John Boehner. Neither party took Americans hostage; neither party demanded a ransom. That was before the radicalization of the Republican Party, at which point threatening to trash the full faith and credit of the United States on purpose became acceptable.
* "If this were easy to do, somebody over the last 20 or 30 years would have gotten it done." Here, "this" seems to refer to cuts to social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security. Of course, President Obama has already offered entitlement reforms as part of a balanced compromise, and Boehner has refused to consider any concessions. Worse, the Speaker wants entitlement cuts but hasn't proposed any of his own.
Everything about Boehner's reckless chest-thumping is nonsensical. Last week, Republicans wanted a debt-ceiling crisis over the Affordable Care Act; now it's over Medicare and Social Security. In the spring, Boehner wasn't prepared to jeopardize the full faith and credit of the nation; now he is. In July, House Republicans weren't calling for dollar-for-dollar cuts as part of the so-called "Boehner Rule"; now the Speaker is calling for exactly that.
Throughout the Bush/Cheney era, Boehner supported adding two wars, two tax cuts, Medicare expansion, and a Wall Street bailout to the national debt; now he's prepared to crash the U.S. economy on purpose unless Democrats offer him a debt-reduction plan he deems acceptable.
To reiterate a point from last week, Boehner, who should be slowly preparing to move his party away from the cliff, is instead making matters worse, playing a dangerously stupid game. His comments yesterday reinforce a simple truth: House Republicans are less a governing party and more a group of intemperate children who like to play with matches.