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October 07, 2013 12:58 PM Don’t Know Your Players Without a Program

By Ed Kilgore

One of the odd features of the current Republican-manufactured fiscal crisis is that it has consistently been the “reasonable” GOPers like John Boehner who have wanted to make the debt limit increase rather than appropriations the flashpoint for demanding Democratic concessions, while the Tea Folk have consistently argued for going to the mats on appropriations rather than the debt limit. That continues today, as evidenced by this Erick Erickson post:

Right now the GOP is holding up very well in the press and public opinion because it is clear they want negotiations. The GOP keeps passing legislation to fund departments of government. It has put the Democrats in an awkward position.
But the moment the GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, we are going to have problems. Remember, the last time you and I wanted the GOP to fight on the debt ceiling, the attacks from our own side were particularly vicious.
They’ve been vicious over the shutdown too, but now that we are here, the water ain’t so bad and only a few ankle biting yappers continue to take shots at conservatives from the GOP side.
It will not be so with the debt ceiling. And the GOP will no longer seem very reasonable. The debt ceiling fight will become an impediment to undermining Obamacare.
It is what Republican leaders want. They are hoping for us to be recalcitrant and angry over the debt ceiling increase. They want to appear to shove us off by raising it. They know they can’t fight us on Obamacare because the public hates Obamacare. But they know they can on the debt ceiling because of the specter of default.
So what should we do? I think somebody like Steve Scalise, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, needs to propose a short-term debt limit for a few weeks and attach to it the Full Faith and Credit Act that ensures the Treasury Department prioritizes interest payments in the event the debt limit is ever not increased. This would buy us some time to finish the fight to defund Obamacare and set us up well to fight the next long-term debt limit increase to the death by removing some of the President’s scare tactics. How do Republican Leaders not adopt and push such a proposal? How does Obama not accept it without looking completely unreasonable?
Regardless, the only path to victory in this shutdown is to keep our fire on Obamacare and our focus on the defunding effort. We can still undermine Obamacare, but we need to resist the attempt to merge this with the debt limit and hold the line on the continuing resolution. Otherwise we will lose on both.

To translate this out of Wingnuttia, Erick thinks the GOP “Establishment” is pushing a temporarily hard line on the debt limit in order to surrender on the Obamacare/CR front, after which it will eventually cave on the debt limit once the dangers of a default sink in. He’s also laboring under the illusion that Democrats will eventually accept debt limit leveraged negotiations over tax reform and entitlements in order to protect Obamacare.
The bottom line is that having succeeded in pushing Boehner into a government shutdown over Obamacare, the Tea Folk don’t want to abandon the fight they are in, and don’t trust Boehner to hang tough on anything.

This kinda reminds me of the Republican tensions that broke out during the budget fights of the early 1980s, when Senate “moderates” were forever pushing Social Security and Medicare cuts while House conservatives shied away from the big entitlements and preferred really deep cuts in the non-defense discretionary programs that Senate appropriators tried to protect. It defied standard ideological typecasting, but made sense from the perspective of the conservative factions of the day.

Does any of this matter right now? Well, yes, if you think a debt default would be a national catastrophe, it does matter than the most hateful and intransigent of conservatives don’t seem that jazzed about a debt limit fight. You better believe the Democrats of the early 1980s took advantage of the leeriness of conservatives about messing with Social Security and Medicare, just as the Clinton White House took advantage of House-Senate Republican divisions over how to handle the budget showdown of the mid-1990s. You don’t know your players without a program, and you shouldn’t rely on simple assumptions that one band of GOPers is crazy while another is entirely reasonable.

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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