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January 31, 2014 3:09 PM The Fight To Unite On an Empty Debt Limit Gesture

By Ed Kilgore

Has there every been a House party caucus retreat that’s created as much buzz on as many topics as this week’s GOP confab? Hard to remember one. Aside from the “immigration principles” document, which has attracted about as many comments as it has words, and the argument over Obamacare strategy, it also appears the solons discussed debt limit strategy. Check out this remarkable report from Politico’s Jake Sherman:

During a closed meeting at their retreat here Friday morning, rank and file Republicans seemed to be gravitating toward trying a lift in the borrowing limit to the cancellation of the the so-called risk corridors and reinsurance fund in Obamacare. Both provisions are meant to limit the risk insurers have to take and prevent premium spikes. Advocates for the Affordable Care Act say these items are needed to help insurers balance the cost of accepting more patients….
But there were other ideas as well. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) mentioned the option of trying to tie the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to the debt limit. Others discussed various budget reforms.
It would be a major victory for Republicans to find policy changes Democrats could accept on a debt ceiling increase — although it appears very unlikely. President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) insist on passing a so-called clean debt ceiling hike without policy provisions and have ruled out negotiations.
That means the challenge for Republican is to unite around a single proposal because they don’t expect Democrats to help them pass a debt ceiling increase that has policy provisions attached.
Republican leadership watched this session closely and was heartened by members’ reactions. Several top aides in the session said they didn’t sense many lawmakers digging in for a fight over the debt ceiling and many are cognizant they will likely have to settle for a clean debt ceiling sometime next month.

Got that? House Republicans are fighting to unite on a debt limit hostage target they may not take and will quickly release. What a display of conservative principles!

Trouble is, if they do agree on an empty gesture, there’s a good chance “the base” will not realize it’s kabuki and will start agitating for a real hostage-taking, and things could get out of hand as we saw late last year. Your average fire-eater, after all, doesn’t believe breaching the debt limit is a big deal, and also believes the cowardice of their congressional leaders is the main obstacle to Total Victory. All in all, it’s yet another example of the Republican Establishment’s mix of fear and contempt for the strategic and tactical views of their own ideological shock troops.

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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