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House GOP brinkmanship puts economy in jeopardy

House GOP brinkmanship puts economy in jeopardy
US House Speaker Republican John Boehner attends a news conference following a meeting of House Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, USA on Oct. 15 2013.
US House Speaker Republican John Boehner attends a news conference following a meeting of House Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, USA on Oct. 15 2013.

A bipartisan Senate package isslowly coming together that would reopen the government, avert a debt-ceiling catastrophe, reassure global markets, and return the federal government to some semblance of normalcy. All the House would have to do is approve the Senate bill on the last possible day to end this ongoing nightmare, at least for several months.

That may not happen. When the fate of the nation is on the line, and the plan calls the Republican-led House of Representatives to be responsible, a sense of dread is understandable.

Even a deal cut by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is no fait accompli in the House.Many House Republicans are dismissing the terms of the deal McConnell is reportedly close to striking with Reid, and senior lawmakers are keeping their options open for amending the Senate deal or sending over their own bill.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who spoke at some length with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) yesterday, will meet with his members this morning and brief them on the emerging bipartisan Senate compromise. In theory, the Speaker could tell his conference, "None of us love this, but we don't want to be on the hook for a sovereign debt crisis, so let's hold our noses, get this over with, and live to see another day."

But Boehner may not have the strength or the courage to pull this off. It seems just as likely that he'll ask House Republicans what they want to do; unhinged members will refuse to consider the bipartisan Senate bill; and the House GOP will decide the compromise needs a little right-wing touch-up.

In other words, with the economy, America's reputation, and constitutional obligations on the line, the majority party of the House may decide to play a little game.

Of course, Boehner also has the option of just bringing the Senate bill -- assuming it passes the upper chamber -- to the House floor and letting members vote however they want to vote. With strong Democratic support, it would almost certainly get the necessary votes to become law.

But for the inept and politically impotent Speaker, this may not be an option. If his members want to crash the economy and start hurting Americans on purpose, Boehner may decide to let them -- it comes down to whether he's more concerned with his job than yours.

Brian Beutler, who's argued for months that the debt ceiling would work out fine and that folks like me were needlessly afraid of catastrophe, sounded a circumspect note.

That would be a truly ignominious act. The operating assumption at the White House -- and I think basically everywhere -- is that Boehner's self-dealing enough to shut down the government for personal reasons, but not to blow past the debt limit. He might futz around ahead of the deadline, try to send the bill back to the Senate with riders that the Senate will strip and go a few rounds of ping-pong like he did on September 30.But when time's up, he'll put the Senate plan on the floor and get out of the way. It looks like that assumption is about to be tested.

For quite a while, the argument adopted by the Beltway establishment has been that House Republicans are crazy, but they're not that crazy. They'll threaten Americans' wellbeing, shut down the government, and reject even routine governing, but there are some lines even the House GOP won't cross. The debt ceiling, we've been told, is one of them.

If those assumptions were overly optimistic, we're all poised to pay a severe price.