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October 04, 2013 4:12 PM Devil’s Xmas Tree Lite

By Ed Kilgore

So long as House Republicans maintain the initiative in the current fiscal fight, we’re all living in Robert Costa’s world. His latest missive from Boehnerland (entitled “The Emerging Offer”) suggests that the Speaker and such helpmeets as Paul Ryan are already far advanced in working on the end-game about which we were earlier led to believe conservatives had no clue. And guess what? It looks like a slimmed down version of the debt increase package Boenher tossed out last week as a way to keep restive conservatives on board—you know, the one I called “the devil’s Christmas tree” and alternatively “an evil child’s wish list to Santa.” Check it out as Costa cruises slowly through the possibilities:

[T]he final volley of the fiscal impasse, at least for House Republicans, is already being brokered. And according to my top sources — both members and senior aides — it won’t end with a clean CR, or with a sprawling, 2011-style budget agreement. It’ll end with an offer — a relatively modest mid-October offer that concurrently connects a debt-limit extension, government funding, and a small, but strategically designed menu of conservative demands….
What I’m hearing: There will be a “mechanism” for revenue-neutral tax reform, ushered by Ryan and Michigan’s Dave Camp, that will encourage deeper congressional talks in the coming year. There will be entitlement-reform proposals, most likely chained CPI and means testing Medicare; there will also be some health-care provisions, such as a repeal of the medical-device tax, which has bipartisan support in both chambers. Boehner, sources say, is expected to go as far as he can with his offer. Anything too small will earn conservative ire; anything too big will turn off Democrats….
House leaders are also looking at how to include some energy demands, such as the Keystone pipeline, but tax reform and entitlements are looking to be the core of the offer, and the medical-device tax is seen as the rare health-care demand that’s viable as part of a deal.

You get the feeling Costa’s informants are really proud of themselves for being so very modest in their demands, albeit with some worry that it won’t be enough for the Tea Folk, some of whom would just as soon see a debt default anyway.

Nowhere in the piece, of course, is there any recognition that the president and Harry Reid might mean what they say in stating over and over again that they will not negotiate over a debt limit increase. And this whole strategy also moots the question of a deal over the CR, which would be rolled into the debt limit increase, which means “non-essential” federal employees can plan on cooling their heels for another two weeks.

Days ago, when things began to bubble up about Boehner’s decision to move toward a larger fiscal package, many House Republicans, even his close friends, thought he was maybe trying for a “grand bargain” — a broad deal that’d include some revenue and tax reform, among other policy fixes. But after Boehner brought that kind of deal up at the White House earlier this week, and Democratic leaders dismissed it, he appears to have retreated slightly — looking to go big, but not grand.

Mighty nice of him, eh?

House Democrats better start getting that discharge petition for a clean CR and a clean debt limit increase warmed up. Boehner and company seem to be living on a different planet than the rest of us.

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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