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October 03, 2013 3:37 PM An End To Calvinball

By Ed Kilgore

It’s not clear whether the reference to “Calvinball”—that fabulous game in the cartoon strip Calvin & Hobbs where the rules are made up by the players on the fly—in this Ezra Klein report is his own construction or is from someone in the White House, but it is perfectly apt:

As the White House sees it, Speaker John Boehner has begun playing politics as game of Calvinball, in which Republicans invent new rules on the fly and then demand the media and the Democrats accept them as reality and find a way to work around them.
First there was the Hastert rule, which is not an actual rule, but which Boehner uses to say he simply can’t bring anything to the floor that doesn’t have the support of a majority of his members.
The shutdown, the White House argues, is now operating under a kind of super-Hastert rule in which a clean CR is supported by a majority of House Republicans but Boehner has given the tea partiers in his conference an effective veto over what he brings to the floor.
Then there’s Boehner’s demand for further concessions on the debt limit, which he now says he can’t back down on, but which he made knowing that it would make it harder for him to back down.
The White House has decided that they can’t govern effectively if the House Republicans can keep playing Calvinball. The rules and promises Boehner makes are not their problem, they’ve decided. They’re not going to save him.

More to the point, playing Calvinball on such momentous topics as a government shutdown and a possible debt default is especially dangerous because the odds of miscommunication and miscalculation are nearly as high as the real-world stakes. And to think: Republicans used to be the ones who fretted that the economy was being damaged by “uncertainty” over Obama policies.

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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