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A half-hearted hostage strategy unravels

When it comes to the debt ceiling, "There's no sense picking a fight we can't win," House Speaker John Boehner said today.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio pauses while meeting with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio pauses while meeting with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014.
Watching House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) address the debt ceiling today, it became clear Capitol Hill is dealing with a very different kind of confrontation. Just last year, the Speaker was eager to push the so-called "Boehner Rule" on spending cuts, all while proclaiming that there was simply no way his caucus would approve a clean increase the way he and other GOP colleagues used to.
All of that posturing has been replaced with a more circumspect approach.

Just days away from the administration's deadline to extend the nation's borrowing authority, Speaker John A. Boehner told House Republicans he sees no reason to pick a fight they cannot win on the issue. "There's no sense picking a fight we can't win," the Ohio Republican told members in a private conference meeting, according to sources in the room.

He added, "No one wants to default on our debt." Since the Speaker is very likely sincere about this point, the crisis is already effectively over -- Boehner won't want to crash the economy on purpose, especially in an election year, so Democrats, who already remember Republicans caving twice on the debt ceiling last year, will have no incentive to pay a ransom now.
What's more, though the deadline for congressional action is coming right up, even House Republicans who are inclined to hold the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for some kind of concession, can't even agree among themselves what to put on the ransom note.
And yet, some in the House GOP caucus are nevertheless inclined to go through the motions as if the outcome of this fight isn't already determined.
The Washington Post reported today:

The House leadership spent much of the day debating how to leverage their power to extract concessions from the president in exchange for raising the federal government borrowing authority.... [M]uch of the caucus seemed to be coalescing around the idea of linking a one-year extension of the debt ceiling to another effort to repeal some provisions of the Affordable Care Act. [...] A second option being considered by the Republican leadership would ask President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline in exchange for a debt-limit extension.

There are a few problems here. First, repealing the risk-corridor provisions in the Affordable Care Act would add $8 billion to the deficit and likely increase the cost of health care premiums for consumers. There is, in other words, simply no way Democrats would even consider this.
Second, the Keystone project would only create about 50 permanent jobs, which hardly seems worth trashing the full faith and credit of the United States over.
And finally, what gets included on the ransom note doesn't much matter since Democrats have no intention of rewarding Republicans with an enticement to do what they must do anyway. On this, Dems are entirely united -- there will be no negotiations over whether to force the nation into default. Lawmakers will not be rewarded with treats for financing the spending they just approved last month.
GOP leaders know this and recognize the Democratic position as fact, which is why a clean debt-ceiling increase is inevitable. It's why Boehner, who no longer seems eager to even pretend the theatrics are real, told reporters, "There's no sense picking a fight we can't win."