Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 26, 2011

BOEHNER'S HOSTAGE STRATEGY BECOMES EVEN MORE RECKLESS.... It's important to appreciate the evolution of House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) rhetoric when it comes to raising the debt ceiling. This matters because, as we get closer to a crisis of Republicans' own making, Boehner is become more reckless and irresponsible, not less.

Here's Boehner in November 2010:

"I've made it pretty clear to [my caucus] that as we get into next year, it's pretty clear that Congress is going to have to deal with [the debt limit]. We're going to have to deal with it as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part."

And here's Boehner in December 2010:

"We'll have to find a way to help educate members and help people understand the serious problem that would exist if we didn't do it."

And here's Boehner in January 2011:

"[A debt-ceiling default] would be a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy. I don't think it's a question that's even on the table."

The Speaker, perhaps too weak to explain reality to the caucus he ostensibly leads, has given up on this sensible rhetoric altogether. A question that wasn't even on the table a few months ago is now the basis for threats unseen in modern American history.

Boehner told Politico yesterday, "If the president doesn't get serious about the need to address our fiscal nightmare, yeah, there's a chance it [the debt limit vote] could not happen."

It's hard to overstate how truly insane this is. Boehner wants the White House to address a "fiscal nightmare" that Boehner's own party helped create, and if he's unsatisfied with the president's response, the Speaker will deliberately cause an economic catastrophe. Take steps to fix a long-term problem, Boehner is arguing, or the GOP will cause a short-term crisis on purpose.

A simple desire to do what's best for one's country should preclude such madness.

Indeed, look again at what Boehner was saying in November, December, and January. He knows what the right course of action is. He practically vowed to be responsible. He assured the nation that Republicans would take our collective obligations seriously. The Speaker's own rhetoric made it clear he wasn't going to risk a catastrophe as some kind of partisan game.

And yet, he we are, and Boehner is now prepared to do exactly that.

I have to hope that Boehner's hostage strategy continues to be a radical stunt, and that he doesn't actually intend to hurt all of us on purpose. He has the proverbial gun to the hostage's head (in this case, our economy), but he doesn't really want to pull the trigger -- Boehner just wants Democrats to think he will so they'll pay his ransom. That's how the game works.

But as Ezra Klein noted this morning, "The danger in this is that as the rhetoric ramps up, the market may not realize this is all just more of Washington's fun and games. Brinksmanship runs the risk of misjudging what is the last minute, or the maximum amount of uncertainty, that the market will accept before it reevaluates the American government's capacity to pay its debts back in a timely and smooth way."

When Americans elected a Republican House majority, they may not have realized just how serious a risk they were taking with our future. The electorate's mistake may prove to be devastating fairly soon.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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i say let them go ahead and drive off the cliff. it's time to call a stop to all of their nonsense and this is a winner for dems.

Posted by: just bill on April 26, 2011 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

The level of uncertainty being promoted by the repukes has already caused a level of anxiety within the world bond markets. S&P lowering the debt worthiness of U.S. bonds was partially triggered by the repuke caused uncertainty over the debt limit. We are already paying a limited price for their actions.

The question is do the repukes want to destroy the U.S. and global economies in their quest for power and for the destruction of the Obama presidency? I would not bet against that being their desire!

Posted by: SadOldVet on April 26, 2011 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, that they drove up the debt and then have been hanging it around the Dems neck proves what the Thuglicans have learned: Heads, they win, tails, we lose.

It's like a damn death trap in a Bond movie, except that Obama is none of 007.

Posted by: jTh on April 26, 2011 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Reckless. Incoherent. Inconsistent. Untrustworthy. Yeah, drunks are like that.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on April 26, 2011 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

I guess Boehner didn't hear S&P's warning. They were specifically warning about lack of political agreement on solutions. Agreement means that both sides have to agree with one another, not that one side has to agree with the other or else. The behavior of the Republicans is what prompted the warning. They need to listen to the money talking.

I would like nothing better than to see radical republicanism crash and burn but I fear that I'm not in a position to live through the consequences.


Posted by: Richard A on April 26, 2011 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

"Do as I say and turn away," signals Admiral Boehner one dark and stormy night. "You need to turn," comes the reply. The lights steadily close one on the other, "I am Admiral of the Navy, turn away," shouts Admiral Boehner. "You must turn," comes the reply. "I don't turn for anyone. You bend to my demands or I will run you over," screams the red faced Admiral Boehner. "I may be but an ordinary seaman, but no matter how many times you order me, I will not turn away. I am manning a lighthouse," comes the reply.

All the President has to do is tell Boehner to send him a clean bill. If Boehner refuses, the Republicans will be blamed for the economic collapse that will follow a default, and the long term damage that will come from no one ever trusting the word of the United States again. Boehner will have his permanent place in American history.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 26, 2011 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

"I have to hope that Boehner's hostage strategy continues to be a radical stunt, and that he doesn't actually intend to hurt all of us on purpose."

Come on Steve. He and his ilk have been going out of their way to hurt us since the black guy was elected. Racism has no boundaries too horrifying. These people would kill this economy to depose of the present leader using any mean possible. Killing the economy, the world, whatever, they want nothing to do with Obama, progressives, liberals, and the "tent" they bring to the table. They are a group of traitors in every respect except perhaps they all golf in their spare time...

All of this can be explained by the ease with which they have controlled the low information electorate using the following phrase:

"Keep the government out of my Medicare"

Posted by: stevio on April 26, 2011 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

"When Americans elected a Republican House majority, they may not have realized-"

-the rest of that sentence is unnecessary. An uninformed electorate is the Republican's best friend- and they strive mightily to keep it that way!

Posted by: DAY on April 26, 2011 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

Party Uber Country!

Party Uber US Economy!

Party Uber World Economy!

PARTY UBER ALLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 26, 2011 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

They only care about destroying Obama. Hell, Trump is out there essentially out there now asking 'how did that nigger got into Columbia and Harvard'.

And the sad thing is the pathetic media will eat it up.

Posted by: Holmes on April 26, 2011 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

Wow,I was channeling Palin in that last post. For those that read it, forgive me.

Posted by: Holmes on April 26, 2011 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

So the Republican position is that the deficit will get so bad in the future the U.S. might not be able to pay its debts, so to prevent that we will stop paying them now?

Posted by: exlitigator on April 26, 2011 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

Holmes, sometimes, for literary effect, one must call a spade a spade. . .

At this moment, MSNBC Babe is saying "Obama did it too", regarding raising the debt ceiling . (He was in the senate at the time) I guess she got the memo from Corporate!

Posted by: DAY on April 26, 2011 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

"When Americans elected a Republican House majority..."

Because the alternative was ... what? What did Democrats run on in 2010? Anyone? Bueller?

So, I expect Democrats will stake out clear lines of difference in 2012, right?

Posted by: Tom Allen on April 26, 2011 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Holmes, I thought your post was pretty clever. Your grammar and word choice fit together nicely. We can reasonably expect the Donald to ask that question any day now. So can the corporate media.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 26, 2011 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

As many others have pointed out, probably including Steve, the Ryan budget adds $6 trillion to the debt. Textbook hypocrisy.

Posted by: Bill on April 26, 2011 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, S&P is, undoubtedly, correct. However, their failures in 2007 leaves them suspect.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 26, 2011 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

I don't give a fuck what Boner says and neither should you. It's his funeral, and if he goes forward with his threats over the objections of moneyed elite, that may be a literal statement.

Someone out there is not going to risk their billions on this crying rodeo clown and is willing to do something about it. But I'm 99.99% sure that Boner will raise the debt ceiling, especially if Dems make it abundantly clear there is no deal to be made.

Posted by: bdop4 on April 26, 2011 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Boehner is acting more akin to Lord Cardigan, while Ryan is Captain Nolan, and they wish this country to emulate that wild charge at the Battle of Balaclava. Vain Glorious.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 26, 2011 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

"My language fails!

Go out and govern New South Wales!”
. . . . .
The Aged Patriot groaned and died:
And gracious! how Lord Lundy cried!
(Hilaire Belloc)

Posted by: davidp on April 26, 2011 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Note Well: Republicans and the media will blame any delay in the debt-ceiling vote to stubborn Democrats.

It's how the game is played. And the Democrats quit playing long ago.

Posted by: LL on April 26, 2011 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Boehner needs himself, 49 non-crazy Republicans and the 192 Democrats to raise the debt ceiling. His problem is that if he does that, he might not be Speaker for much longer. Hell, he might not be in Congress past 2012.

Posted by: AK Liberal on April 26, 2011 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

If the House GOP/TP succeed in voting as a block to not raise the ceiling, the reaction by the stock market will be a disaster. WIth the House Dems (excepting a few blue dog scalawags) voting to raise the ceiling, it will be very problematic for the Media to blame the disaster on the Dems.....oh, they will try of course, but with the market in free fall, who'll notice?

Posted by: T2 on April 26, 2011 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

There should be no negotiation on the debt ceiling. Democrats should take the stance that the time to negotiate is on the budget. You can argue about how much to spend and how to pay for what you spend, but not about whether you're going to pay for what you spent. "Do what I say or I'll steal" isn't an acceptable negotiating stance.

Posted by: Jon on April 26, 2011 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Time for the Dems to ramp up the rhetoric. So far, we've only heard vague warnings about the catastrophic effect on the world economy if the debt ceiling isn't raised, which isn't really connecting with a lot of Americans. Start emphasizing that the Republicans are a bunch of deadbeats who don't want to pay the bill for their unfunded wars, prescription benefit for seniors, and tax cuts for the wealthy. The bill is now coming due. This is phrased in the moral terms with which many view the budget.

They could even go further. I keep hearing from conservatives about this "kitchen table" approach to budget issues: if an individual has to balance their own budget, then so should the government. (put aside for the moment why this isn't a good analogy -- just go with it for a moment) So an average person, if necessary, will make cuts in his own budget if necessary for balance. But what does an individual do if cuts alone don't get his budget into balance? He looks for an additional source of revenue -- a second job, selling an asset, etc. Well, we just agreed to major cuts in the budget. Budget cuts alone won't get us to where we need to be. Time to talk about increasing revenue -- and we can start with taxes on the wealthy.

Posted by: jsjiowa on April 26, 2011 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

What's so frustrating about this is that you can't run slam-dunk ads that say, "John Boehner and the Republicans in Congress are threatening to destroy the economy." Because unfortunately huge majorities think we shouldn't raise the debt ceiling.

Posted by: bobbo on April 26, 2011 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

After the 2008 elections, Tammy Faye Boehner was asked on NPR what the Republicans wanted to accomplish during the next session. His answer "Gain control of the House". After the 2010 elections he said their goal was to make Obama a one term president. Boehner does not care about solving the nation's problems. The only he cares about is power; keeping his personal power first, the Republican majority second. Anything he says and does needs to be viewed from the perspective of how does it help him and his party gain more power.

Posted by: Homer on April 26, 2011 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

"Boehner told Politico yesterday, 'If the president doesn't get serious about the need to address our fiscal nightmare, yeah, there's a chance it [the debt limit vote] could not happen.'"

Let's just assume he didn't intend that to be a factual statement.

Posted by: Marko on April 26, 2011 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

It's hard to believe my already crappy financial position could be made worse by a debt default. And honestly, the more those better off than me lose the better.

I hope Republicans go all ape-sh!t and pull the plug. The ones that will squeal the loudest will be the ones with the most to lose.

Bring it on.

[Alternatively, it would be great if someone could explain why the US not raising its debt ceiling, honestly, in language we all can understand, would cause all of us such great harm. Really. Most of us got not so much left to lose.]

Posted by: NealB on April 26, 2011 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

"...or the GOP will cause a short term crisis on purpose." Steve Benen.

The LAST time the bond markets collapsed, they took the world's stock exchanges with them. Economic recovery wasn't complete for the US until 1942, and then only because of rearmament spending and the draft removing so many workers from the labor force.
It's also safe to say that had the Depression not occurred, neither would WWII.
THAT'S what these idiots are risking...

Posted by: Doug on April 26, 2011 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK
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