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February 10, 2014 10:28 AM One-Car Funeral

By Ed Kilgore

We’ve been led to believe congressional Republicans have figured out threatening a debt limit default is bad for business—literally and figuratively—right? And they understand Democrats are united around a “no negotiations” position on the imminent debt limit increase, making a “clean bill” the only practical option, right?

So how do you explain stories like this one, from WaPo’s Paul Kane and Robert Costa:

House Republicans return to Washington on Monday still struggling to find a path to raising the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority, but the normally raucous caucus is in unusual agreement that the best option is to put the white-knuckle confrontations of recent fiscal wars behind them….
Facing a timeline that leaves no room for trial and error, some party leaders were advocating a debt-ceiling solution that would wrap several popular, must-pass items around a provision to extend the federal government’s borrowing authority beyond the November midterm elections. That approach has drawn support from some surprising quarters, but several senior GOP advisers made it clear over the weekend that such a proposal would require a bloc of Democratic votes, because about 30 Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances.
By Sunday night, Republican leaders had not conducted a formal whip tally on their side to determine how many votes they had, and no outreach had been made toward Democrats to determine what kind of support — if any — such a plan would receive from them.
Without as much internal dissent as in previous budget showdowns, Republicans still face a powerful enemy: the calendar. The House will adjourn Wednesday afternoon so Democrats can attend their annual issues retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and then the entire Congress is shuttered during the week of Presidents’ Day.
Once the chamber closes Wednesday, the House will not return for a full workday until Feb. 26, which is one day before Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said he will lose his ability to juggle the nation’s finances. The quick march would then begin toward defaulting on portions of the nation’s more than $17 trillion debt, sending global ¬≠financial markets reeling.
This time crunch means that unless Republicans quickly coalesce around a plan, the last week of February will bring another countdown moment before a critical fiscal deadline.

So having decided not to provoke a crisis over the debt limit by making unreasonable demands on Democrats, Republicans are on the brink of provoking a crisis attributable solely to their internal disarray.

There’s an expression (maybe exclusively southern, maybe not) I grew up hearing that “so-and-so could screw up a one-car funeral.” That’s the kind of Keystone Kops image congressional Republicans are cultivating on the debt limit—and on immigration. More about that perpetually fraught subject later.

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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