Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Sunday said Republicans will insist on more concessions for raising the debt limit in early 2014, indicating that the fiscal ceasefire he brokered in a budget deal may not last long. "We don't want nothing out of this debt limit," Ryan said on "Fox News Sunday." "We are going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt-limit fight."
Given the preliminary success on a budget compromise, it may be tempting to think House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has turned over a new leaf. Sure, he's spent the last several years as an Ayn Rand acolyte, trying to eliminate social-insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare, and even waging a fierce culture war, but perhaps his willingness to strike a modest deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) reflects a new found maturity for Ryan.
Whether the Senate will approve the budget compromise remains to be seen -- we'll almost certainly see a vote sometime this week -- though success would remove the threat of a government shutdown for a long while.
The measure would not, however, include a debt-ceiling increase, which Congress will have to address early in the new year to avoid default and economic catastrophe. Ryan may have earned plaudits by working constructively with Murray, but he's nevertheless threatening -- out loud, on the record, on national television -- to once again hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage.
"We don't want nothing out of this debt limit," he said. So much for turning over a new leaf.
Looking ahead, there are two broader takeaways to keep in mind. First, Ryan is talking about causing a deliberate economic catastrophe unless Democrats meet Republican demands. This remains as radical a threat as anything seen in the United States since the Civil War, and the fact that GOP leaders keep bringing it back up only helps reinforce the impression of contemporary Republican extremism.
Second, it's not at all clear why Ryan is even bothering with this nonsense. In early 2013, congressional Republicans said they were prepared to hold the debt-ceiling hostage until their demands were met. President Obama said he would pay no ransom to entice Congress into paying the nation's bills, and GOP lawmakers backed down.
A few months ago, congressional Republicans did it again, and once more Obama said he would not negotiate with those threatening the nation with deliberate harm. GOP lawmakers again backed down.
Yesterday, Ryan raised the specter of yet another crisis, in which Republicans would threaten to hurt Americans on purpose, but here's the thing: we now know he and his party won't actually follow through. GOP lawmakers can hold the proverbial gun to the nation's head, but party leaders have already made it abundantly clear that they're not prepared to pull the trigger.
This is especially true in an election year -- neither Ryan nor anyone else in Republican politics would welcome a self-imposed economic crisis months before voters head to the polls.
Maybe Ryan wants to appear "tough" during a Fox News interview; maybe Ryan is using this as a talking point to rally Republican support for his bipartisan budget agreement; or maybe Ryan actually believes his own rhetoric. Regardless, it's tough to take his threats seriously.