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August 14, 2013 3:32 PM The Double-Scoop of Ice Cream Next Week

By Ed Kilgore

Yesterday, after reading Robert Costa’s detailed account of how John Boehner and Eric Cantor were slowly and patiently talking Republicans out of a suicide mission to shut down the federal government unless Obamacare was shut down, I compared them to parents dealing with incorrigible children. But now, after reading Ezra Klein’s examination of the bait House GOP leaders have been dangling to get their unruly small fry to swim in the same direction, I think they are more like parents who overcome one unreasonable demand by promising an even more unreasonable favor down the road:

Since Boehner can’t just tell House Republicans that their party needs to let go of the whole stop-Obamacare thing until they win a few more elections, what will he tell them?
Apparently, he’s going to tell them to try using the debt ceiling:
“Sources tell me the House GOP will probably avoid using a shutdown as leverage and instead use the debt limit and sequester fights as areas for potential legislative trades. Negotiations over increasing the debt limit have frequently been used to wring concessions out of the administration, so there may be movement in that direction: Delay Obamacare in exchange for an increased debt limit.”
Trading a government shutdown for a debt-ceiling breach is like trading the flu for septic shock. And Boehner knows it. Republicans will effectively be going to the White House and saying, “Delay the health-care law or we will single-handedly cause an unprecedented and unnecessary global financial crisis that everyone will clearly and correctly blame on us, destroying our party for years to come.”
It’s not a very persuasive ransom note to send. And Boehner knows it. It’s just something he’s saying to talk his party down from this tree. But come October, when they climb up into that higher, more dangerous, tree, he’s going to have to think of some new crazy promise to entice them down. Then, three months later, that promise will come back to bite him — and the rest of us. And eventually, someone’s going to make a mistake, and Boehner won’t manage to pull his people back from the brink at the last minute.

Now one might think the prospect of a debt limit crisis and a one-year Obamacare delay wouldn’t be all that enticing as compared to a government shutdown aimed at “de-funding” Obamacare altogether. But keep in mind (a) a lot of House Republicans (viz. Tom Cotton, the man who is supposed to wrest the Senate away from Democrats next year) actually like the idea of a debt default, and/or think it’s terrifying enough to produce bigger concessions than a mere government shutdown, and (b) a “delay” in Obamacare implementation is enough to get Republicans past the mid-terms, when they think their performance will suffice to claim a mandate to croak Obamacare once and for all.

So if giving up on a shutdown seems like denying House conservatives the ice cream cone they want, the promise of a debt limit gotterdamerung is the double-scoop of ice cream next week. No wonder it may work, for now.

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.

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