So flares are going up all over Washington that this could be a Deal Day, when a debt default is at least temporarily averted, and perhaps the federal government is reopened as well. The main reasons for optimism involve the alleged reconquista of the House Republican Caucus by the Great Big Adults who are interested in forcing Great Big Adult concessions from the president like Social Security and Medicare cuts rather than crazy and infantile demands like changes in the Affordable Care Act. In other words, the “debate” launched by GOP hostage-taking is sounding comfortingly familiar to Washingtonians, complete with archaic deficit hawkery, another “blueprint” from Paul Ryan, talk of “supercommittees” and even suggestions for a new Simpson-Bowles Commission. For those who enjoyed the 2011 budget nightmare, it’s like the good times may be returning.
But while, for reasons beyond my understanding, a government shutdown caused by hostage-taking over Obamacare is supposed to be infinitely worse than a debt default caused by hostage-taking to force a return to the budget negotiations of the past, it’s not clear at all that a formula can be put together that will satisfy Republicans without violating the president’s refusal to make a debt limit increase contingent on policy concessions (or negotiations over them). Here’s a key passage from Tim Alberta’s National Journal piece last night that summarized the state of play over the salvific notion of a short-term debt limit increase:
[S]ome conservatives are quietly whipping support for something being called the “four-plus-four” plan, which would simultaneously pass “clean” four-week versions of a continuing resolution and debt-limit increase. The proposal, which would establish binding guidelines for talks between House Republicans and the White House and Senate Democrats, is intriguing to some Republican lawmakers.
“If it was a month-long, and it held the president’s feet to the fire to negotiate, I think that’s something people would be willing to take a look at,” said Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona.
But this proposal — which is also attractive to some members because it would also reopen the government — stands little chance of gaining majority support among Republicans, many of whom refuse to pass any clean debt-ceiling increase because of the precedent it would set. Several conservative members, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to offend their colleagues, flat-out dismissed the idea.
“That’s never gonna happen,” said one GOP lawmaker.
So unless I’m missing something, John Boehner is struggling to get House Republicans to sign off on a conditional short-term debt limit increase and appropriations measure the president would have to reject anyway. If “binding guidelines for talks between House Republicans and the White House and Senate Democrats” means what I think it means, we’re talking about some framework that takes tax increases off the table, or requires “entitlement reform,” or sets up automatic spending cutes, or does something else to tilt the table. By any definition, that’s a concession by Obama and congressional Democrats made to secure a debt limit increase, and that’s what the 44th president has vowed again and again that he won’t do.
So it seems apparent the only way the dynamic that’s got people so excited today leads to anything real is if someone can draft a short-term debt limit increase/CR with language that Democrats can dismiss as meaningless while Republicans hold it up as a trophy of their success in forcing Obama to the table to cut spending.
Well, good luck with that. I remain convinced the only way out of this is for somebody to win and somebody to lose—preferably a retreat in humiliation by John Boehner that no amount of face-saving can really mitigate.
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