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'Strategy is not our long suit'

Congress has a week left before federal funding ends and the government shuts down, but nearly everyone seems to agree that's extremely unlikely. We here at the
'Strategy is not our long suit'
'Strategy is not our long suit'

Congress has a week left before federal funding ends and the government shuts down, but nearly everyone seems to agree that's extremely unlikely. We here at the Maddow Show have taken to giving these crises names, and with that in mind, Congressional Storm Francis appears unlikely to do any real damage.

Of course, it's not too easy. The Senate is trying to take up a temporary spending bill to finance the government through the end of the fiscal year -- it's called a "continuing resolution" -- and though there's generally bipartisan agreement on the stopgap measure, some Senate Republicans are delaying the process anyway. Still, the Senate is expected to pass its CR this week; House leaders have said they'll approve the Senate version; and the threat of shutdown should be eliminated with several days to spare before the deadline.

And at that point, attention will turn to Congressional Storm Gertrude, the name we use to describe the next Republican debt-ceiling crisis.

Roll Call reported yesterday that there's been "discussion at the highest levels" among congressional Republicans about the next debt-ceiling increase, and GOP leaders met with a "working group" of five influential conservatives late last week. They agreed to a series of "special, extended closed-door meeting with the entire Republican Conference after the Easter recess to walk through the coming battle."

In theory, there's really not that much to talk about. Unless Republicans are serious this time about defaulting, refusing to pay the bills for things they've already bought, trashing the full faith and credit of the United States, crashing the economy, and hurting Americans on purpose, they're going to have to raise the debt limit whether they want to or not.

In January, Republican leaders conceded they don't consider default an option, and yet, they appear eager to threaten the possibility again anyway.

...House Republicans are still planning to push for steep spending cuts or budgetary reforms alongside legislation to allow more borrowing.House Speaker John Boehner's majority has cut so deep into discretionary spending, they know they cannot go any deeper. So this time, to raise the nation's debt cap -- something GOP leadership estimates is likely to happen in July -- they are moving on to tweaking entitlements.

This appears likely to get very ugly.

GOP lawmakers seem to realize additional deep cuts to discretionary spending just isn't going to happen, so they're working on a new plan -- either Democrats accept cuts to social-insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security or Republicans will deliberately hurt the country.

The details of the plan are, it's worth noting, still coming together. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) conceded, "Strategy is not our long suit." But they seem to have a sense of where they intend to go.

No decisions have been made among GOP leaders about how to proceed. Boehner announced Tuesday at a closed meeting of Republicans that they'll hold a meeting in early April to discuss the party's strategy for the next six months. GOP leaders want everyone's buy-in on the strategy, even if leadership is already mulling paths forward. GOP leadership believes that the Treasury Department could use what they call "extraordinary measures" to push the debt ceiling deadline to July, just before Congress goes on its August recess."I think we will do our best to allow the president to choose which course he goes," said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who has been close to Boehner since their days together in the House. "If he chooses to trigger a debt crisis, fine."

This has always been my favorite formulation of the GOP's hostage strategy. Republicans, are giving President Obama a choice -- he can meet their demands or not. If the president chooses not to pay the ransom, then, in this twisted Republican version of reality, it's his fault when GOP lawmakers decide to start hurting Americans on purpose.

"I think everybody realizes this sort of lurching from one crisis to another doesn't instill confidence," Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas said.

That's true, but he and his party intend to do it anyway.

Remember, it's not just rank-and-file crazies who are prepared to once again hold the United States hostage; it's the top Republican leaders in both chambers.

To reiterate a point from last week, I'm still skeptical about the seriousness of the GOP rhetoric. The threats only work if everyone, including the White House, believes that Republicans genuinely want another damaging debt-ceiling crisis and are fully prepared to hurt the country on purpose -- again.

There's reason for skepticism. As you'll recall, Republicans all but admitted a couple of months ago that they were bluffing and weren't actually going to allow the nation to default, and it's awfully tough to go back to Democrats with this message: "Sure, we were bluffing in January, but this time we're really prepared to hurt Americans."

Democrats probably won't buy this line, but make no mistake, that's exactly what the GOP is saying anyway.