Political Animal


May 16, 2012 11:30 AM Wheels Within Wheels

By Ed Kilgore

Yesterday Speaker John Boehner announced that House Republicans would again take hostage any measure to increase the public debt limit—which might be needed prior to the end of the year, though likely after the elections—unless their demands are met to (a) extend the Bush tax cuts, due to expire December 31, (b) enact spending cuts equal to or more than the increased debt authorized, and (c) cancel the planned “sequestration” of defense appropriations agreed to as a fall-back measure in last year’s debt limit agreement.

There’s a lot of tricky timing involved in this scenario. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has indicated it might be possible to go without a debt limit increase until early next year, which could decouple both the Bush tax cut expiration and the Pentagon sequester from the debt limit increase unless Republicans can find some way to force the issue. It’s also likely the election results will affect the dynamics significantly. Would House Republicans want to present a president-elect Mitt Romney with a debt limit crisis? Or would they try to kick the can into 2013, and if so, would Democrats cooperate?

In any event, it’s a mite strange that Boehner is raising the threat so early. At TPM, Congress-watcher Brian Beutler examines various reasons he might be doing so, and concludes it’s mostly about the familiar pressure Boehner faces from a radicalized conservative movement that keeps him on a very short lease:

Boehner’s big announcement Tuesday was almost certainly conceived in the same cramped box his unruly conference has kept him in since the first day of his speakership. His conservative members are still bloodthirsty, and untrusting of the leadership. He’s had countless fights with them blow up in his face over the past year and a half, and they’ve defected from some of his key, successful initiatives by the dozens. To make matters worse for him, his party is expected to lose House seats in November. If Boehner’s fighting for his speakership, this is a way to make a final appeal to the radicals in his party.

But there are wheels within wheels in the GOP radicalization machine. Boehner’s not the only GOPer having to deal with chronic mistrust from movement conservatives: the legendary House GOP class of 2010 is being accused of creeping RINOism as well, as evidenced by a new Club for Growth “study” (really just a subset of its annual rating of Member of Congress according to the Club’s litmus tests) that’s getting lots of attention in the wingnutosphere. Here’s the Club’s ominous rhetoric about the “study:”

In the 2010 election, 87 freshmen House Republicans came to Washington pledging fealty to the Tea Party movement and the ideals of limited government and economic freedom. The mainstream media likes to say that the freshman class is the most uncompromising group of fiscal conservatives in history…but just how Tea Party are they? Did all 87 freshmen always vote to cut spending and limit the size of government, or did some of them vote like the big-spending R.I.N.Os of the past?

You can see where this is going. And sure enough, plenty of ‘10ers were given mediocre scores by the Club. I wonder if they might have had Allen West—whose score was a lukewarm 64%—in mind when they suggested that “in many cases, the rhetoric of the so-called ‘Tea Party’ freshmen simply didn’t match their records.

Wingnut commissar Erick Erickson’s reaction to the “study” was illuminating:

I’m afraid if the tea party is not much more successful in primarying Republican candidates and then having those guys practice what they preach, the GOP is within a decade of going the way of the Whigs.

In any event, a manufactured debt limit crisis linked to absolutist fiscal demands is the single most important ideological signal available to House Republicans to show their hearts are in the Right place. The bigger picture is that the rightward trend in the Republican Party hasn’t stopped, and won’t stop after the elections, no matter what happens. A presidential/congressional victory will represent that great gettin’ up morning when all the promises to “the base” have to be redeemed. And as in 2006-2008, a defeat will be interpreted by the ascendant Right that yet again, Republicans have betrayed their “conservative principles,” a spin that will be made even easier by the nomination of “moderate” Mitt Romney and the congressional leadership of Boehner, who has been caught again and again showing an inclination towards marginal levels of responsibility. Eric Cantor (2011 Club for Growth score: 55%) isn’t much better. Time for more purges, and more pressure for Republican officeholders to prove their good faith by dragging the federal government and the economy to the bottom of hell.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on May 16, 2012 11:50 AM:

    "Would House Republicans want to present a president-elect Mitt Romney with a debt limit crisis?" GEEZ Ed. If Romney is elected you'll not hear a peep about the Debt Limit...it will just be approved by voice vote like always (before TeaParty). And you won't hear a peep about the Budget Deficit Crisis.....remember if Republicans are in the White House, the Deficit doesn't mean anything. Ask Dick Cheney.

  • danimal on May 16, 2012 11:56 AM:

    The GOP could drive a good bargain if they were savvy, which they aren't. Their current strategy could leave the GOP a smoking ruin at the beginning of the year.

    Imagine a scenario in which the Bush tax rates expired 12/31/12, the defense sequestration occurs on schedule, the debt limit isn't reached until the next congressional session and the Dems have a reelected president, control of the Senate and more reps in the House (or even the majority). Obama proposes a new tax regime centered on cuts to the middle/lower classes. What would John Boehner do in that scenario? How much power does he have then?

  • jjm on May 16, 2012 12:04 PM:

    re: " the GOP is within a decade of going the way of the Whigs."

    Try six months...

    Boehner and the GOP are just pulling this stunt (which actually netted them a very severe loss of approval last time around) to try to get headlines, and of course please the Club for Growth--not the actual voters. After all the Tea Party may no longer approve of the guys they elected but all the voters in their districts approve of them even less.

    I can't see these guys making any real headway. By the way, the Guardian UK has news that manufacturing and housing starts are up in the US. Where are the headlines here?

  • Josef K on May 16, 2012 12:12 PM:

    I would dearly love to see how Norquist or Erickson would fare if elected to office.

    Won't happen, of course. They're smart enough to know they're utterly unelectable.

  • T2 on May 16, 2012 12:14 PM:

    "Obama proposes a new tax regime centered on cuts to the middle/lower classes."
    Well, danimal, the GOP would do the following....kill it in the Senate by filibuster and vote it down in the House (thanks to Blue Dog Dems).
    The GOP isn't going to give Obama any wins in his second term, any more than they have during his first term.

  • PonB on May 16, 2012 12:15 PM:

    While it's great to read about another sign of the coming long-term GOP implosion, I really only have this to say:

    Nice Rush reference, Ed!

    - PonB

  • Joe Friday on May 16, 2012 12:16 PM:

    The campaign ad writes itself.

    The Republicans are nothing but terrorists threatening to blow up the country if their extremist agenda is not enacted.

    The available video footage is abundant.

  • danimal on May 16, 2012 12:23 PM:

    T2--If Obama proposes tax cuts for middle-class and the GOP kills the bill, the GOPs fingerprints are on the bloody knife. Meanwhile, revenues increase sharply, reducing the debt/deficit as a relevant issue. It would be a disaster for the GOP (BTW, they REALLY need continued deficits to sell their agenda).

  • Sean Scallon on May 16, 2012 12:30 PM:

    As I said it's a never ending cycle. It's easy to say no all the time when you're in the opposition. When you get in power and local constituents want a new bridge in your district, are going to lecture them about the deficit and pork and throw in a little Ayn Rand in there too, or are you going put in the earmark to get the bridge for them? It's your election buddy, you decide. Is it any wonder Allan West wants to keep his job instead of martyring himself?

    It reminds one of the story of the Libertarian Party member who got himself elected to a city council seat and wound up reading portions of Atlas Shrugged into the meeting minutes because there was nothing he could take an ideological stand on. Unless conservatism develops a governing structure beyond sloganeering and or standard for they want to do when they get into power, then it becomes inevitable that posturing is all that's left. Bitch at ALEC all you want but it at least they gave Tea Party members in state legislature things to vote on and accomplish to sell to voters. You may not like such proposals granted but that's at least better than threatening default while refusing to cut defense spending or getting a bridge to nowhere.

  • T2 on May 16, 2012 12:36 PM:

    danimal, do you think the GOP cares about fingerprints and bloody knives? They don't. They'll just blame it on Obama.

  • Ron Byers on May 16, 2012 12:37 PM:

    How come reading this story I am reminded of fecal matter floating in water circling around a toilet drain? I guess that is how I feel about the never ending Republican move to the right. They are just circling around the drain.

    Erickson's reference to the Whigs is more appropriate than he knows, not just for the Tea Party but for Republicans in general. Historically the Republican party of 2012 reminds me of the Whig party it replaced. They are simply out of ideas and lack the intellectual firepower to revive themselves.

  • boatboy_srq on May 16, 2012 12:43 PM:

    Mr. Erickson:

    Iím afraid if the tea party is... much more successful in primarying Republican candidates and then having those guys practice what they preach, the GOP is within a decade of going the way of the Whigs.


    The Silent Majority is as real as the Confidence Fairy. It's well past time the GOP realized that.


    Would House Republicans want to present a president-elect Mitt Romney with a debt limit crisis?

    Of course they would: it would be the best possible reason to liquidate public assets, kill off "wasteful spending" (e.g. the ACA, SocSec, Medicare/Medicaid etc) and a whole host of other dirty tricks, all in the name of "austerity" and "fiscal responsibility." Giving (FSM-forbid) pResident Romney a debt crisis would be manna from heaven for these loons. Remember: these are the same people who shrieked about ballooning debt - until their chimp got sElected, and then suddenly paying down the debt was foolish, when all that surplus could just be handed back to the "job creators" as tax breaks. "Debt crises" are tools with which to bludgeon hapless Democrats.

  • Ken on May 16, 2012 1:11 PM:

    keeps him on a very short lease:

    I think you mean short leash. Boehner's not leased, he's bought and paid for.

  • TCinLA on May 16, 2012 1:44 PM:

    the GOP is within a decade of going the way of the Whigs.

    Erickson, being Southern (how much incest is there in Georgia?), is too ignorant to realize that it is due to the efforts of himself and the rest of the Confederate scum that this is true.

  • c u n d gulag on May 16, 2012 1:53 PM:

    THIS House is insufficiently crazy?


    Not every bill started off with "Jesus would have wanted...," and have corporate sponsorship - "This is Verizon's ALEC, and we approve of this law?"

    What, they didn't shoot the Democrats, and eat them?

    What more do you want, short of a complete Banana Republ...


  • Tom Hilton on May 16, 2012 2:57 PM:

    There's another reason for Boehner to talk this up now: it creates...what is that word the Republicans always use? oh yeah, uncertainty, which can stunt economic growth between now and the election.

    They are, as ever, trying to damage the economy in order to damage the Democrats.

  • T2 on May 16, 2012 3:18 PM:

    Thank you Tom Hilton! If people don't think the GOP Braintrust schemes about politics...they are wrong. This is a PLAN to put the economy back in the same place it was last August, just in time for the election.

  • Mark Combs on May 16, 2012 8:12 PM:

    I can see the tea party types giving Romney exactly the same treatment they've given Obama. After all, these are not politicians, these are True Believers, and Romney is not one of them. I can't believe this, but I've finally reached the point where I feel sorry for Boehner; herding cats is not only a pain, it's pointless.

  • Daniel Kim on May 16, 2012 10:39 PM:

    @ Mark Combs wrote:
    "I can see the tea party types giving Romney exactly the same treatment they've given Obama."

    I recall hearing something about how the Republicans just want a rubber-stamp president who will sign any bill their GOP-controlled congress sends to him. You know, a president who doesn't think.

    "We don't need a president to tell us in what direction to go. [...]
    Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States."
    - Grover Norquist