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July 24, 2011 10:30 AM If Boehner prioritizes blame over success

By Steve Benen

The House went through the motions earlier this week, passing a radical “Cut, Cap, and Balance” debt-reduction plan that Republicans knew would fail. They did this as a sort of vanity exercise, intended to make GOP lawmakers and their activist base feel better about themselves.

But as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) effectively admitted, even before the vote on CC&B, his caucus needed to just get this bill out of its system before more meaningful work could proceed.

The hope was that Boehner & Co. would be more amenable to a compromise, knowing that a failure would lead to a catastrophe. There’s a real threat, however, that the House will simply choose to avoid blame, not to address the crisis of their own making.

House Speaker John Boehner says the short-term measure he plans to announce Sunday to avert a debt limit crisis may not get support from Democratic leaders, but he’ll push forward even without such backing.

“The preferable path would be a bipartisan plan that involves all of the leaders, but it’s too early to decide whether that’s possible,” Boehner said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If that’s not possible, I and my Republican colleagues are prepared to move on our own.”

Boehner said his plan would be based on the House Republicans’ Cap, Cut and Balance plan that cleared the House but was rejected in the Senate.

This is critically important. What Boehner is describing is a path that makes his caucus happy. What about the 60+ House Republicans who don’t want to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances? And the need to pick up dozens of House Democratic votes? Boehner is thinking about a plan based on CC&B that would get enough Republican votes to pass, whether Dems like it or not.

There’s a Democratic Senate and a Democratic White House, but there’s a real possibility that House Republicans don’t care. Here’s how this would work: Boehner would reject all efforts to find a practical solution, pass a plan his caucus likes, and then announce that he’s done. “The House passed a bill,” the Speaker will say. “Whether the Senate approves it is up to them, but if they don’t, the crisis will be Democrats’ fault, not Republicans’.”

Boehner’s comments this morning — “I and my Republican colleagues are prepared to move on our own” — sounded a lot like a House leader who’s not even interested in finding a solution at all. His goal is likely to avoid blame, not to resolve the problem.

In other words, Boehner sees the car headed for the cliff, and appears ready to put a brick on the accelerator.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • k l m on July 24, 2011 10:44 AM:

    Boehner's repetition of the incorrect grammatical phrase "I and my Republican colleagues" is telling. He puts himself first. The correct "My Republican colleagues and I" would not only imply a better grasp of the language, but also suggest a team approach instead of grandstanding for saving his own hide. Just sayin'.

  • Bo on July 24, 2011 10:59 AM:

    The petulant, tea-baggin' House republicans remind me of a child in toilet-training.

    It seems that they pinched a loaf in the crapper for the first time (that hairball of legislation they coughed up to deal with the debt ceiling). Then they ran around proudly proclaiming "I made a poopy". The adults in the home (Senate) flushed it down the toilet without offering one word of praise. And now the tea-baggers are pouting, stamping their feet and threatening to smear their next bit of excrement all over the walls.

  • meander on July 24, 2011 11:03 AM:

    "In other words, Boehner sees the car headed for the cliff, and appears ready to put a brick on the accelerator."

    ...and then jump out of the speeding car, hoping to save himself from certain death when the car and its other passengers (and our economy) go over the cliff.

    On the policy / politics axis, why not just pass a bill that gives Obama full authority to raise the debt limit for a few years? Then Obama can take the blame and we don't crash the economy. The answer is pretty clear, I think: cleaning avoiding a crash and giving the president some spending flexibility might improve the economy and diminish the chance of Republican gains in 2012.

  • Josef K on July 24, 2011 11:04 AM:

    The scenario Steve outines sounds like the most likely Boehner will pursue. Indeed, I'd say it will be the one that plays out over the next week. I expect a vote on some new monstrousity no later than Thursday. Unless the House Republicans just start parroting how CCB was their entire plan.

    And the worst thing? Very likely the public will believe this dross and start blaming Obama and Reid for any crash.

    Anyone know where the nearest fallout shelter is?

  • SYSPROG on July 24, 2011 11:04 AM:

    'cut cap and balance' is merely a plan to abdicate responsibility. Every single person that voted for this should immediately lose their job. They are in Congress to work on budgets, pass laws and compromise with other member. They DON'T care about this country and should be made to watch Fareed Zacharia's interview with David McCullough this morning. They are delusional. This is OUR country dammit!

  • J+1 on July 24, 2011 11:17 AM:

    I don't understand why the wealthy overlords of the Republicans haven't been able to push them to get the ceiling raised by now. Doesn't a default hurt them just as much as it hurts the serfs, er, Average Joes? Even the crazy wackjobs would be susceptible to pressure from the Kochs, I'm thinking.

    There must be a benefit to default for someone, for it to have gone on this long. I'm just missing something, and haven't figured out who it benefits.

  • Kathryn on July 24, 2011 11:47 AM:

    Josef K is correct. People do not know what is contained in C,C and B. If they did, the GOP would lose but it sounds good to the simplistic majority. Nine days to Armageddon, not enough time to inform. Boehner will put the onus on Senate Democrats and Pres. Obama if he gets the Tea Party to vote with him and why wouldn't they?

    If the markets crash on Monday, I don't know what happens, anybody?

  • Mac on July 24, 2011 12:25 PM:

    Careful folks. I hate to say it, but the optics here are potentially deadly for the Dems. Boehner and the Republican message machine is preparing the ground for default. Full stop. Once default hits, their their message machine is better than the the Dems. Here's why:

    1. When people are in pain, they don't care about what caused it, they just want it to go away.

    2. When the pain hits, the Republicans will point to their "plan" that the Dems voted down. I.e., "We tried to give you a pill, but the Dems actively prevented you from receiving it."

    3. Given the way that the Senate works, there is no countervailing plan *that has been voted on*. So, what did the Dems do? Nothing.

    4. If the economy tanks, the *last* thing anyone will want to hear is "raising taxes." Whether that makes sense in a targeted way is irrelevant.

    5. So, the Repugs tank the economy. No one wants taxes raised under those conditions. Government services are getting slashed right and left. So in retrospect why *didn't* the president agree to that plan again? It asked for cuts, but nothing like what we're getting now, and taxes aren't going up anyway. Not in a situation like this. So why didn't the president do the "reasonable" thing and accept the (comparatively) modest cuts that would have prevented all of this.
    to punish the Republicans.

  • Glidwrith on July 24, 2011 2:31 PM:

    @j+1: the reason a default is being driven is because just like with Goldman sach's, financiers like Eric cantor have shorted the market on U.S. Bonds and will make a shitload of money in causing a default. Also, since most of Social Security holds bonds they might succeed in destroying it in one fell swoop.

  • Tony Greco on July 24, 2011 2:37 PM:

    The scenario Steve Lays out in his 3rd to last paragraph does seem plausible, but could Boehner really get away with that? I'm no expert on Congressional procedures, but couldn't the Dems just amend the bill in the Senate, excising all objectionable provisions, and then put the onus of compromise on the conference committee?

  • ameshall on July 24, 2011 4:26 PM:

    The Republicans aren't really sweating this out because their timeworn strategy of "lie, soundbite, repeat" has always worked for them, and it will likely work here as well. The public will ultimately be convinced that the President caused the debt ceiling crisis because he held firm for tax increases. By the time the Republicans and their superPACs are done with their media blitz, the public will think that the Republicans were ready to raise the debt ceiling but the President wouldn't accept their modest proposals to curb reckless government spending. You can take it to the bank.

  • Neo on July 24, 2011 4:52 PM:

    Senate Democrats havenít a plan or a budget (and havenít had a budget for nearly 3 years now): Theyíre running on the status quo (a recession). They intend to run the federal government into the ground, borrowing as much money as they can on the way to that ruin. At what point does reality rear its ugly head with some of these people, cause it ainít going to happen?

  • FRP on July 24, 2011 5:22 PM:

    Luckily for the Senate Democrats there is an Executive . The administration , in this scenario , presents said plan or budget every year , imagine that !
    As for running things into the ground , hmmm , your joking ! I get it ! Very funny !

    The use of irony and substituting personalities with the virtuosity of a born conman , tremendous performance .
    Tremendous !
    With the icy chill of mendacity , is it fattening ? I hope not , mmmm good !
    I can still remember a President and congress with a surplus (imagine that) that addressed the burning issues of the day with no regard for paying for them .
    When having finished with the twisted lies that were just "Politics" passing as policy , who can forget , Who I say !
    The signature , "He he he" from the guy who finished the job of running our America into the ground , destroying the middle class with the panache of a sociopath .
    Ahhh good times , good times .

  • Doug on July 24, 2011 6:20 PM:

    First off, I must take exception to Mr. Benen's phrase "...the House will simply choose to avoid blame...". The House Republicans MAY try to avoid blame, that doen't mean, even with the somnolent MSM, that they'll get away with it. President Obama has stated that he will veto ANY bill that doesn't also include increased revenues. I believe him and, once details of the "Grand Bargain" Boehner walked away from becomes better known, I think most of the country will as well.
    This is,. according to Republicans, an existential crisis for the country, yet they couldn't accept a deal that was 57% cuts to 43% increased revenue? That will NOT go over well.
    Mac @ 12:25 PM posits an interesting, if unconvincing, scenario. His first point is very accurate, but I have a question - who is most likely to try and make the pain go away? Democrats, willing to borrow and spend if necessary to alleviate that pain, or Republicans, unwilling to even raise the debt ceiling without vast cuts? And if, having crashed the economy, Republicans were to authorize increased debt to help those suffering from the effects of the crash, the question will arise - why didn't Republicans just raise the debt and avoid the crash?
    As for point 2, Republicans can TRY to blame Democrats, but it's obvious the optics are currently against them, and increasing, and there is no reason to expect a 180-degree turn in the public's attitude; "pain" notwithstanding. What type of "pill" is it anyway, when the ONLY way you can get Democrats, and the country, to accept it is by crashing, or threatening to crash, the economy?
    Regarding point 3, the Democrats already have a plan - the one Boehner walked away from last Thursday. The one that favored the Republicans.
    Point 4 (with apologies to Mr. Truman) just doesn't fly. Taxes were raised in the 1930s, not exactly know as an economically prosperous decade; with marginal rates of 70% on all income OVER $100,000. I have no idea what the inflation-adjusted amount would be now, but, if the population was suffering badly, I wouldn't want to be the Senator or Representative trying to defend NOT raising taxes on "millionaires and billionaires".
    A "tanked" economy will NOT help Republicans, now or in 2012. Boehner knows that, but he is willing to risk it to retain the loyalty of a majority of his caucus and the Speakership.
    No wonder he drinks...

  • Rick Taylor on July 25, 2011 10:00 AM:

    I fully expected the Republicans in the House to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling coupled with dramatic cuts, and then to dare the Senate and the President not to pass it. What I didn't expect is what actually happened; Republicans haven't even passed their own bill to raise the debt ceiling (except for a symbolic vote on a measure that would have required a constitutional amendment to pass). That's the context of Boehner's remark, If thatís not possible, I and my Republican colleagues are prepared to move on our own.Ē The extraordinary thing is, a week before we go into a huge financial crises, the Republicans haven't even moved on their own yet.

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