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Tilting at Windmills

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November 19, 2010

BOEHNER WANTS CONGRESS TO TACKLE DEBT LIMIT 'AS ADULTS'.... During the campaign season leading up to the midterms, Republicans reveled in using the federal debt ceiling for partisan demagoguery.

But now the elections are behind us, and GOP leaders realize their new majority is going to have to swallow hard and approve the same kind of debt limit extension they bashed Democrats for passing.

Many of the new Republican lawmakers harshly criticized their Democratic opponents during the campaign for voting to raise the limit in the past, citing it as an example of the Democrats' recklessness with federal tax dollars.

But on Thursday, Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) said he's been talking to the newly elected GOP lawmakers about the need to raise the federal debt ceiling when it comes up early next year.

"I've made it pretty clear to them that as we get into next year, it's pretty clear that Congress is going to have to deal with this," Mr. Boehner, who is slated to become House speaker in January, told reporters.

"We're going to have to deal with it as adults," he said, in what apparently are his most explicit comments to date. "Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part."

Oh, now Boehner wants Republicans to be mature? What convenient timing.

To be sure, Congress doesn't have much of a choice here. If lawmakers balk and refuse to raise the debt limit, the United States goes into default, signaling to the world that the country isn't in a position to repay its debts. U.S. treasuries, considered the safest investment on the planet, would no longer have the backing of the full faith and credit of the United States. The result is a government shutdown -- and a whole lot more.

But the new House GOP majority has been told not to care. For months, if not years, Republicans have stoked these fires, convincing the party's candidates and its base that routine extensions of the debt ceiling are downright evil.

Maybe they should have thought this through a little better, appreciating the fact that mindless demagoguery often comes with consequences.

As for what to expect next, there are multiple angles to keep an eye on. First, Boehner & Co. will try to convince rabid, right-wing freshman to be responsible on this, which will be a tough sell. Second, watch for some leading Republicans to try to strike some bizarre deals -- Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), a member of the leadership, has suggested Republicans will extend the debt limit if the White House agrees to a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act. That's both insane and unrealistic, but the push will happen anyway.

And third, pay careful attention to how House Dems handle this. Democrats won't be in any hurry to help Boehner out, since it was Republicans who used this as a campaign cudgel throughout 2010. Indeed, Boehner may assume that getting to 218 shouldn't be too difficult -- if the 190 (or so) House Democrats are prepared to do the responsible thing, the GOP leadership will only need a small fraction of the Republican caucus to get this done.

But there's no way on earth Pelosi and the Dems go along with such a scheme. Even if an extension is endorsed by Republican leaders, Democrats aren't about to open themselves up to another round of attacks on this issue. It seems quite likely, then, that Pelosi will have a direct message for her GOP counterpart: you made this bed, so you'll have to lie in it - to avoid a global catastrophe, find the votes on your side of the aisle.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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I wonder if there is a way to make the Repugnant Ones require 85% of their minions to carry the debt ceiling vote while the Dems whine about how evil they are?

Sadly, I wouldn't like to see our side act like children either (even though that would feel like a bit of justice)- and I don't expect to.

Posted by: Mark-NC on November 19, 2010 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

I wish I had as much faith in the House Democrats standing up for a change, and playing some politics.
I think they'll be enough of them that capitulate, as always, to make it seem like it was Broders beloved bipartisan effort to raise the ceiling. Yes, it needs to be done. Yes, there's a way to do it, and for Democrats to win the political game, I just think that if they still have the pieces to the game, they've forgotten the rules...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on November 19, 2010 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

I'm still laughing at the fact that Boehner wants his party to behave like adults!

Posted by: js on November 19, 2010 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

oh, there should be deals, all right. but it should be the democrats making the deals now.

okay, bonehead, you want us to vote to raise the debt ceiling, you vote to extend unemployment benefits.

Posted by: just bill on November 19, 2010 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

Boehner has the harder problem than Mitch McConnell. Nancy Pelosi has experience and is gifted at playing hardball. I suspect she is fully willing to let Republicans walk off a cliff of their own making.

Posted by: Ron Byers on November 19, 2010 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

Democrats won't be in any hurry to help Boehner out, since it was Republicans who used this as a campaign cudgel throughout 2010.

Uhm, yeah, right, sure.

Posted by: MsJoanne on November 19, 2010 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

We WANT a government shutdown!!!

We do NOT want to allow the debt ceiling to be raised. We WANT the U.S. to default on its bond obligations and be seen throughout the world as a horrible and untrustworthy economic partner.

We do NOT want the New Start Treaty to be passed. We WANT the U.S. to be seen throughout the world as a horrible and untrustworthy foreign relations partner.

We accomplish two goals at the same time with these. One, we finish destroying the presidency of the usurper Obama. Second, we complete the job of making the U.S. a 3rd world nation where we, the wealthy elites, control everything in our economy. When the peons of this country have reached the same level as Indonesians working in sweat shops, we will be pleased.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on November 19, 2010 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

One thing that people need to keep in mind. The Blue Dogs vote has been cut in half. The DINOs were punished severely for being Republican lite. Yep we lost a few, but the folks who really lost were people afraid to be Democrats. Pelosi will have a much easier caucus to control than she had last term.

Posted by: Ron Byers on November 19, 2010 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

Of course the democrats are going to go along. That's what they do. And if they don't, watch every news anchor on the planet talking about the democratic-party minority shutting down the government by sabotaging Boehner's efforts to be reasonable.

Posted by: paul on November 19, 2010 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

Look, I'm fairly partisan myself. So, I understand the feeling. But, why is it okay to play chicken with the debt limit now that Democrats are in the minority? Hasn't Steve spent much of the last few weeks before the mid-term election excoriating GOP candidates for their willingness to do just that?

I'm fine with getting whatever we can and holding Boehner & Co.'s feet to the fire. But, in the end the debt ceiling must be raised and if it takes Democrats to do it, I expect them to do so.

The problem isn't that Democrats do the right things and then take heat for it. The problem is that they fail to defend themsleves. The message should be, "Hell yeah we raised the debt ceiling and prevented another global catastrophe while the GOP played games!"

Posted by: AK Liberal on November 19, 2010 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Curious that the biggest (only?) pair of cojones in the House belong to a woman.

Posted by: DAY on November 19, 2010 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers said:
One thing that people need to keep in mind. The Blue Dogs vote has been cut in half. The DINOs were punished severely for being Republican lite. Yep we lost a few, but the folks who really lost were people afraid to be Democrats.

That's only true for those of us who live in the reality-based world.

There are two kinds on Republican-Lites (all the policies, half the meanness) -- the whores and the nuts. The whores are the "Democrats" whose focus is increasing the profits of their big-money corporate donors. The nuts are the "Reagan Democrats" who still believe that Supply-side economics works -- despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

In the universe that the nuts live in, the reason that their fellow DINOs lost was that they were "tainted" by the liberals. In their minds, if the Democrats all had acted like them, their party still would be in the majority.


Posted by: SteveT on November 19, 2010 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Hello partial appeal of the ACA.

Posted by: gussie on November 19, 2010 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

The Daily Show did a great montage about the "adult conversation" talking point that has been circulating.

Posted by: SneakyMonkey on November 19, 2010 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

SteveT is right.

In our corporately owned media world, it is also why Harold Ford (DLC/DINO/Rethug-Lite) is consistently a featured voice on talking head tv to present the democratic side.

Posted by: SadOldVet on November 19, 2010 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK


Links help dont they.

Posted by: SneakyMonkey on November 19, 2010 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

Amendment 14:
"The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."

A radically assertive President could use this as authority to not default, no matter what other laws are present, since the Constitution trumps other law.

Posted by: Robert the Red on November 19, 2010 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

I think Boner's masters are worried. A planet wide breakdown of the financial system would effect them too.

Posted by: Gandalf on November 19, 2010 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

Look this happened before, with TARP. Republicans didn't want to pass TARP but they also had George W Bush begging for Congress to pass TARP and they had their leadership freaking the hell out to get TARP passed because they knew if they didn't it was goodbye sweet life. And the Dems held firm then - they weren't going to pass a bail out solely with Democratic votes. It needed to be bi-partisan and they got it.

What Pelosi and co. should be able to hold out for is that ridiculous ideas like Pete Sessions "repeal ACA and we'll pass the debt limit" are off the table. Up or down vote on raising the debt limit and you can count on 75% of the Dems to vote for it. Boehner can go out with his Oompa-loompa bretheren to find the rest of the votes among Republicans and it can be "bi-partisan".

The Democrats shouldn't act like children about this, but they can act like firm adults. Vote to solve the debt problem, and don't include stupid pet Republican issues like stripping ACA and whatnot. And if the Senate puts shit like that in there to appease the idiots in that Chamber, it gets stripped out automatically in Conference or the Dems vote it down and start over from scratch.

The Republicans puppet masters are not going to stand for the country to go into default, and the buck stops with Boehner. He needs to do the work and cut out a few golf games and a few tanning sessions to get it done. He shouldn't count on Nancy Pelosi making him look good.

Posted by: NonyNony on November 19, 2010 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

SteveT, you might be right, but you have to admit there aren't as many Blue Dogs as there were before the election.

Posted by: Ron Byers on November 19, 2010 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

"Hell no"?

Posted by: Trollop on November 19, 2010 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

SneakyMonkey Beat me to it. Go to the Daily Show site and check it out. Time and time again we see the effectiveness and unity in Luntz-O-Gram talking points. Repeated and repeated until it is "common knowledege" among the rubes. Dija hear? The Republicans are adults! If only the Dems had this kind of force . The Republicans (and Blue Dawgs) HATE the American middle class they want to grant tax breaks to millionaires while denying an extention of unemployment benefits to the unemployed so they will not starve. This should be the first thing a Democrat says when the TEEVEE NOOZE puts a microphone in their face . in my dreams (sigh)

Posted by: John R on November 19, 2010 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

There was never any chance that the people who bought this election for the Orange Boner were going to permit him to default on the debt.

Back a couple of years ago, when TPM had reader blogs, I did one in the wake of the Democracy Corp focus group report that basically said "wow, they're just really crazy, and not in the idiomatic or metaphorical sense." At the time, I didn't buy the notion that they could actually take back Congress by obstruction and demands for a return to the policies that created the mess.

Once again, I understimated the effect of the MSM's inability to treat any fact more than one month old as relevant upon public discourse.

But in that blog, I said something I still believe: win or lose, 2010 was going to be a catastrophe for the Republicans. And the reason I thought, and think, the win is a catastrophe for them is that the demands and the beliefs of the radicalized base are so completely inconsistent with institutional imperative to govern--at least to the extent of passing a budget and raising the national debt limit--that comes with majority status that it bids fair to tear the party apart.

I suspect the fat cats and powers that be in the party assumed, and still assume, that the party's posession of its own private propaganda ministry will enable it to reshape the beliefs of the radicalized base to conform with the elites' actions. They may be right. The malleability of the Republican rank and filer's mind, the ability of Republicans--from sober sensible moderates to gun-hoarding freeper--to believe six impossible things before breakfast if their opinion leaders tell them too, is one of the party's main strengths (even if it's toxic to our democracy). But it seems to me that the level of mass insanity the elites have been cultivating since 1994, which ramped up by an order of magnitude after 9/11, has become a self-sustaining thing in and of itself. It's looked to me for the last year that Republican elites and opinionmongers have been in a constant race to keep up with it, much less get ahead of it. It's already run past Ann Coulter and left her largely irrelevant becuase there's no longer any way to be crazy enough to out-crazy the base on the timeframe required to publish books.

And, more importantly, the crazy has its own elites now and they want the reins--DeMint is going to be a thorn in McConnell's flesh for the next two years and there may well be more members of the coming House Republican caucus who as crazy as Bachmann than not.

If they weren't so damn anxious to take the whole world down in flames with them, I'd pop some popcorn and get ready to be entertained. As it is, I've backslid on my nailbiting issue.

Posted by: Another Steve on November 19, 2010 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

The politics on lifting the debt ceiling is likely going to go the TARP way. Nancy and John will make a deal as to how many votes each side will have to deliver to make it happen, yet provide cover for both sides.

Since the Rs have more seats they will need to deliver more votes. If John fails, Nancy is going to renege on the deal until he delivers. Nancy demonstrated in the case of TARP that she has the balls to do it. Enjoy the speakership, John. The pain will come from your side.

Posted by: eserwe on November 19, 2010 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with Just Bill. Agree to provide the votes, but require that a number of other Dem measures (START, DADT, UI extension) are passed concurrently.

Posted by: bdop4 on November 19, 2010 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Benen completely misreads Pence.

The money part of the quote is:

"...then we'll fight for more tax relief."

Pence is such an idiot that he believes that the tax rates were not cut enough and if they were cut enough, the treasury would be overflowing in revenues.

Posted by: SadOldVet on November 19, 2010 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Nancy should have EVERY dem abstane from voting till enough Rs vote to ensure this passes. Then they can add their Yes or No as they see fit.
Make enough R's vote YES after all it is "their" House now....

Posted by: joyzeeboy on November 19, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

I'd pay good money to see any GOPer behave like an adult, if only for 5 minutes.

Posted by: azportsider on November 19, 2010 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

OK, speaker Boehner, I give up. Where are these new adults going to come from?

Posted by: Jamie on November 19, 2010 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

"I'd pay good money to see any GOPer behave like an adult, if only for 5 minutes."
And they would have to immedately go on ol' Drug addled Rushbo and walk it back.

Posted by: John R on November 19, 2010 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Instead of Dems voting "no" on raising the debt ceiling, how about if they all just abstain from the vote, thereby forcing the new Repug majority to find the votes amongst their own.
I've been anxiously awaiting this ever since election day. Repugs spent two years misleading the unhinged elements of their base; and now, they have to keep them happy. Failure is inevitable.

Posted by: saucier on November 19, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

It's possible for the Dems to have their cake and eat it, too. Vote FOR raising the debt ceiling but not until the majority of the GOP does. Just don't vote electronically. Let the Repugs go first. And if they fail to raise it, abstain. Boehner will have to twist arms in his caucus. And in the end the GOP will manage a bare majority and then the Dems can vote en masse.

Posted by: Daryl on November 19, 2010 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

One of the stupidest ways to analyze politics is to take a trend over the past two years and extrapolate the trend over the eons. This congressional term will be different than the last. The media will not be kind to the GOP. The GOP will not be as unified as they were in opposition. The Dems will play offense in ways they couldn't while in the majority.

Stop assuming all will be disaster. Dems have enough power to thwart the tea party crazies. We just have to be smart and stop all the doom and gloom thinking. Pelosi has done it before; she'll do it again.

Posted by: danimal on November 19, 2010 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

OK so how do we send the message to the Dems to play hardball on this one?

Posted by: rabbit on November 19, 2010 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Pelosi could say the Democrats have enough of the 218 votes that represent their makeup in the new House. She could demand that Republicans work in a bipartisan fashion by finding the votes that represent their control of the new House.

Posted by: cb on November 19, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a semi-hardball vote scenario.

Safe Dems vote yes on the debt ceiling after a majority of GOP reps vote yes. Swing Dems are free to vote their conscience. Congressional votes like this are orchestrated by the majority and minority much, much more than partisans assume. (TARP is the rare example of an accord of this type failing).

This would be a pretty easy deal to reach. Boehner would be pilloried by the conservative press (just as Obama/Reid/Pelosi were over the past two years by liberal blogs), but he signed up for the job knowing what he's up against.

Posted by: danimal on November 19, 2010 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

This new political landscape is beginning to be marginally more interesting than depressing. We now have a cliffhanger: just how irresponsible will the House majority be.

Posted by: CDW on November 19, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Not only should the dems play hardball and get a LOT for getting Boehner off the hook, wouldn't it be great if they walked out the first time this comes up, so the world can see the Republicans eat vast quantities of their words, when they're yanked out of fantasyland back to reality.

Posted by: Keeping Track on November 19, 2010 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Let the morons do it. it's probably the only way to destroy the American Empire, and let the imperial morons take the credit they so richly deserve.

Posted by: TCinLA on November 19, 2010 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: bigtuna on November 19, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Speaker Pelosi has been vilified by the right for years, mostly for being good at her job. I hope she earns her vilification and makes Boehner pay. He will need 218 votes to pass the bill. Make him provide every one of those votes before even one Democrat walks onto the floor of the House.

Posted by: Seould on November 19, 2010 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

"But, why is it okay to play chicken with the debt limit now that Democrats are in the minority?" AK Liberal @ 9:02 AM.
If the debt ceiling needs to be raised it is the responsibility of the majority party to introduce such legislation and its' members to vote for it. If the majority party can't do that, then why was the measure introduced in the first place?
Of course the idea that Boehner and the Republicans would ever play partisan politics with something as vital as funding the national debts is represhensible. Unfortunately it's also very, very likely.
I could very easily see a measure to raise the debt limit introduced by Boehner & Co. As there will be approximately 195 Democrats in the new House, only 25 Republicans would need to vote "aye" for the measure to pass if ALL the Democrats voted for the measure. And there you have it: Democrats voted to increase the debt by a 5 to 1 margin! And you know very well the Republicans would do just that if allowed.
So Pelosi will have to ensure that Boehner has the Republicans vote first, at least until their numbers reach a certain percentage of their caucus - then the Democrats can begin voting. Some against, most for; the former just to keep Rep. Boehner conscious of what's going on, of course.

re: Robert the Red's post about the 14th Amendment @ 9:17 AM.
The reference to the "validity" of the national debt was directly aimed at preventing any attempt by Representatives or Senators from the Southern states from attempting to strike back at the victors of the War of Southern Treason by calling into question the constitutionality of the funding of that war and its' post-war costs; ie, funding pensions and disability payments. The South had lost and would have to help pay the costs incurred in their defeat.
Refusing to raise the debt limit is NOT the same as "casting doubt" on the validity of the national debt. It is, besides being incredibly stupid, simply a statement that the Federal government will not borrow any more money to pay its' day-to-day expenses. While the latter would, depending on who is "casting doubt", possibly increase the cost of borrowing for the Federal government, the former would result in an incredibly destructive economic crisis.
Which would cost even more to clean up, but then Republicans apparently gave up basic math about the same time as Eisenhower left the White House...

Posted by: Doug on November 19, 2010 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

I’d come to clinch the deal with you on this. Which is not something I usually do! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

Posted by: Cordie Zogopoulos on December 6, 2010 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK



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