A ridiculous new debt-ceiling strategy takes shape

A ridiculous new debt-ceiling strategy takes shape
A ridiculous new debt-ceiling strategy takes shape

It's not exactly clear when the next debt-ceiling increase will be necessary, but thanks to a series of favorable factors, including increased tax receipts, Congress may not have to act until October, which would provide quite a bit of breathing room between now and the next Republican hostage crisis.

In the meantime, Republicans still intend to carefully write up their ransom note, threatening to hurt Americans on purpose unless President Obama and congressional Democrats give the GOP ... something. Like what? The new plan is apparently to demand tax reform.

With another fight over the national debt brewing this summer, congressional Republicans are de-emphasizing their demand for politically painful cuts to retirement programs and focusing on a more popular prize: a thorough rewrite of the U.S. tax code.Reining in spending on Social Security and Medicare remains an important policy goal for the GOP. But House leaders launched a series of meetings last week aimed at convincing rank-and-file lawmakers that tax reform is both wise policy and good politics and should be their top priority heading into talks with Democrats over the need to raise the federal debt limit.

This is kind of hilarious, in a pathetic, post-policy sort of way.

First, Democrats actually want tax reforms, so there's no real need for a hostage strategy in which Republicans threaten to deliberately harm the nation. Policymakers could, you know, just begin policy work. Not everything has to be manufactured, self-imposed crisis -- grown-up officials, even Republicans, should at least consider the possibility of basic American governance from time to time.

Second, and arguably more important, is the fact that entitlement cuts -- the one policy Republicans said they wanted more than any other -- have now been deemed insufficiently "popular."

I'm trying to wrap my head around this bizarre series of events:

1. Republicans create a debt-ceiling crisis, demanding spending cuts.

2. President Obama accepts spending cuts.

3. Prioritizing debt reduction, Republicans demand more cuts, this time to Social Security and Medicare.

4. President Obama grudgingly says he'll accept cuts Social Security and Medicare as part of a debt-reduction compromise.

5. Republicans condemn the Social Security and Medicare cuts they requested, and decide they want tax reforms instead.

And why, pray tell, do Republicans no longer want the cuts they demanded? Because "some Republicans fear that embracing them would be political suicide."

As Chait asked, "Oh! So you threaten to melt down the world economy unless Obama agrees to cut spending on retirement programs, and then he offers to do that, and then you decide it's too unpopular?"

Yep, pretty much.

Best of all, in the Republican vision, tax reform would be deficit neutral -- in other words, the new message on the debt-ceiling ransom note would be a demand for a policy that doesn't reduce the debt at all.

If Lewis Carroll wrote a book on budget negotiations, it'd be less absurd than this nonsense.