Political Animal


July 18, 2011 8:00 AM With 15 days to go

By Steve Benen

This morning, Time’s Jay Newton-Small explained the state of play well: “Washington’s debt ceiling talks have entered a new and desperate phase. With two weeks to go until the U.S. begins to cut government services to avoid defaulting on its credit obligations, negotiators are farther apart on a plan to stem the nation’s deficits than they have ever been.”

That’s plainly true. It’s also why talk of optimism on the Sunday shows yesterday seemed to misplaced.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), for example, proclaimed, “The country will not default.” There was a lot of that going around.

Top Republican lawmakers and the Obama administration’s budget director predicted Sunday that an agreement would be reached before the federal government defaults on its debt in early August, but both sides continued to squabble over the details of competing proposals, offering little evidence that a deal was at hand.

“I do not believe that responsible leaders in Washington will force this to default,” Jacob J. Lew, the White House budget office chief said on the ABC News program “This Week.” “All of the leaders of Congress and the president have acknowledged that we must raise the debt limit. And the question is how.”

I don’t doubt that officials who’ve been at the negotiating table know more about the prospects for success than I do, but I haven’t the foggiest idea how any of them can feel optimistic right now. Indeed, the Aug. 2 deadline is two weeks from tomorrow, and much of the chatter on the Sunday shows was devoted to different policymakers floating different solutions, none of which appear viable. We should be well past this point by now, but we’re not.

That said, behind-the-scenes talks continued yesterday, and the focus on the McConnell/Reid “Plan B” was reportedly intensifying.

One thing to keep in mind is Senate procedural hurdles. By all accounts, there’s some momentum for the McConnell/Reid compromise, which would probably have enough support to pass the chamber. But managing the clock will be tricky — Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), among other right-wing members, has already said he’ll filibuster the agreement. Ordinarily, the question is whether the majority can put together 60 votes. In this case, the 60 votes will probably be there, but the calendar becomes the central problem — given the far-right delaying tactics, it could take a full week for the Senate to consider, debate, and vote on the deal. With the clock ticking, the specific provisions of the agreement would have to come together very soon, if for no other reason, to start the clock on the burdensome Senate process.

In the meantime, there’s at least a possibility that literally no solution can assemble 218 votes in the House — there are simply too many right-wing Republicans in the chamber with an allergy to reason — in which case, we’re all royally screwed.

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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  • c u n d gulag on July 18, 2011 8:13 AM:

    It's truly amazing that it's come to this.

    All it would take is a piece of paper saying, "Yup, we're good for it!"

    But the f'ing geniouses on the Republican side, wanting to do anything and everything to embarass Obama, decided to make THIS the fight, and not the budget talks, incited the morons in their ranks, and now can't control them.

    This is a party that depends on loyalty and lemming like behaviour. Instead, there's enough loose canons out there to do enourmous damage to this country and the world.

    'Forgive them Father, for these f*cking morons know not what they do...'

  • themistocles2012 on July 18, 2011 8:23 AM:

    Republicans to the country: We're going to take a drive off the cliff to see if it's really as bad as everyone has been saying.

    It is interesting to note that government doesn't know what to do about what happens if the ceiling is not raised. There is a procedure in place for dealing with lack of an appropriations bill--we actually began implementing the shutdown process up until the moment the appropriations bill was passed.

    This is different. Unlike lack of an appropriations bill (= no authority to *obligate*), this issue affects the governments ability to pay for legally incurred debt. What happens to normal government functioning on Aug 3? Is there a plan? If so, what is it? It would be interesting to know if anyone in the government (e.g., OMB) has any idea what the impact and procedure for operating the government will be if the debt ceiling is not increased.

  • Bob M on July 18, 2011 8:27 AM:

    " in which case, we’re all royally screwed"

    No way. I trust Obama will screw the Republicans if they force him.

  • walt on July 18, 2011 8:27 AM:

    From the start my fear was that Obama would compromise in advance and then, finally, capitulate to the zealots. Oddly, enough, most of that did happen but the zealots couldn't take yes for an answer so Obama's battlefield concessions means he'll win this war. If Republicans let the situation drift into default, their brand will be permanently damaged. But as much as we want to think the zealots are really dumb and obviously crazy, I think they'll tap the brakes before the car gets to the cliff. Why get reasonable so late in the game? Because their puppetmasters from Koch Industries to The Club for Growth, to the Chamber of Commerce will tell them. In no uncertain terms.

    No default.

  • square1 on July 18, 2011 8:29 AM:

    Isn't it time then that the White House sets aside its plans for any multi-trillion dollar debt-reduction "Grand Bargain" and simply push for a clean increase? Fine, add a clause stating "whereas significant debt reduction discussions are in progress...."

    I have long maintained that the debt limit would eventually be raised in time. This was based on the fact that Republicans have raised the limit numerous times in the past and admitted months ago that they would eventually vote for another increase. Thus this appeared to be nothing but more D.C. kabuki.

    But when the deal between Boehner began to fall through, I started to have real doubts. There just isn't enough time to convince enough Republican in the House to vote for a tax increase or enough Democrats to vote for a multi-trillion dollar spending cuts with no tax increases.

    Even if you believe that debt reduction is a serious short-term problem -- and I don't -- then the only sane deal to be made at this point is to pass a 6 month extension and continue negotiations.

  • FRP on July 18, 2011 8:29 AM:

    It is worse than a divorce from reality , it is like the death of conscience , consciousness .
    Like determining you don't like the way the restaurant buys eggs , so you won't pay for the meal .
    Eggs ? Too costly , plus I hate white eggs not brown enough too bad . The employee benefits are too generous , can't pay . The TP is too soft , the coffee , the air freshener , can't pay , so sorry .

  • NHCt on July 18, 2011 8:33 AM:

    I think this is one time I'm with the morons on the Sunday shows. At this point, the GOP leadership has managed to convince DC and the media that they will find a way to raise the debt ceiling. The House will spend much of the week acting like children by passing hopeless legislation, while the "grownups" hammer-out a deal of some sorts. This will pass, both sides will declare victory and for a few weeks everything will go back to normal. Then, in the fall, when it comes time for the next budget negotiations, the GOP will shut down the government. I can see the leadership convincing enough backbenchers that if they don't lift the debt ceiling, all hell will break loose. But I can also see those same fools deciding they will shut down the government for as long as it takes to get what they want.

  • SteveT on July 18, 2011 8:38 AM:

    No way I trust Obama will screw the Republicans, even if they force him.

    Fixed it for you Bob M.

  • delNorte on July 18, 2011 8:44 AM:

    This message was posted on my Freshman Representative's (Justin Amash (TP)) Facebook page on Friday:

    "Why do CNN and other news organizations keep insisting that Republicans are open to the ridiculous (and fiscally reckless) McConnell plan? I don't know a single House Republican who supports it. We are united behind Cut, Cap, and Balance."

    On his personal Facebook page he has a banner which says: "Sign the Petition ! Send Congress a Message: Don't Raise the Debt Limit!" and a web site:


    The petition begins: "[The President] is running scared...And we have him trapped...."

    Classy stuff. Interesting, too, is the top banner on this petition that reads: "Justin Amash for Congress" - as if he's already in campaign mode.

  • Gussie on July 18, 2011 8:49 AM:

    Sure, there are too many right-wing Republicans to listen to reason, but are there 30 moderate Republicans who'd vote with the Democrats in order to save the country and world from economic meltdown?

    Or is that about 29 more 'moderate' Republicans than are in the House?

  • Josef K on July 18, 2011 9:04 AM:

    But managing the clock will be tricky — Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), among other right-wing members, has already said he’ll filibuster the agreement.

    How did I know that particular Senator's name would show up?

    I remain unconvinced that Boehner and McConnell can control their caucus sufficiently to deliver any kind of deal. Not that they'd admit this, as they're professional politicians who (understandably) want to keep their current positions.

    I nevertheless find myself wishing one or the other, or Cantor come to that, just come out and say they can't raise the debt ceiling. All this waiting is doing nothing for my nerves. I can't imagine how Steve and other Washington Watchers manage.

  • KurtRex1453 on July 18, 2011 9:41 AM:

    Well, the founding fathers were all about good credit, the 14th amendment enshrined the principle, and if I remember correctly a Suoreme Court decision in the 1930s upheld the principle. Now, if the GOP remains solid against any increase in the debt ceiling I think Obama should march on on this basis. Yes, it would cause uproar and the House would probably try to impeach, but protecting the credit of the US is more important.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 18, 2011 9:42 AM:

    I know how a deal will happen. Harry Reid will continue bending over for McConnell to do as he pleases, Democrats in both the House and Senate will be "responsible" and go along with whatever McConnell shoves up Reid's butt, and Obama will offer one of Social Security, Medicare, etc. to as sacrifice to appease the Tea-publican gods.

    After watching Obama's savvy political team maneuver since inauguration, couldn't this have been predicted all along?

  • siameesecities on July 18, 2011 9:42 AM:

    At this point, since it seems like Republicans are not going to let the ceiling be raised, and they also want some political points, can they just start floating the idea of a clean vote; an obviously useless vote.

    If it's Aug. 1 and so grand deal is made, just vote up or down on the thing, let all the tax and spend evil liberals be on record voting to raise it and the republicans can pound their chest with their NO vote.

    Either the non-idiots in the house will just vote to raise it anyway and we'll avoid collapse, or fuck it, we go into a depression and the front page of the Aug. 14th newspapers (a couple of weeks of a screwed up economy would be enough time to feel it, right) across the country can be the votes, all (or most) Republicans plastered on newspapers and cable news show graphics with a scarlet letter of NO


  • Anonymous on July 18, 2011 9:52 AM:

    I think you guys who think there won't be a debt ceiling raised are not quite fathoming the depth of the problem here. Republicans are pounding the shit out of the Democrats tactically. They're going to get, and Democrats are going to go along, to keep hammmering on this throughout the campaign next year. It doesn't matter that Republicans are wrong on everything. They've got a stupid electorate that agrees with them. And Democrats are too stupid to know just how stupid the electorate is.

  • bigtuna on July 18, 2011 10:26 AM:

    What Gussie said. It requires about 30 Repubs in the house who are grown up to vote on a ceiling bill that makes some sort of sense. Surely there are 30? But - - is the dynamic that to even do 30, Boner has to do a deal with Nancy Pelosi and the cootie infested democrats? So there may be to votes, but such a vote would essentially undermine Boner's standing, and precipitate his slide out...

  • JM917 on July 18, 2011 10:41 AM:

    @ bigtuna:

    Boner and Nancy Pelosi may be cooking up a deal under which Boner delivers 30 or so GOP votes, or whatever it takes to combine with a Pelosi-delivered virtually unanimous block of Democratic votes in order to put through a deal. In return, Pelosi has probably promised to deliver that same block of Dem votes to keep Boner in the Speakership when Cantor pulls out his knife.

    But the even bigger problem is getting wild-eyed radical-right Republican senators (DeMint, Lee, Paul, Toomey, etc.) from filibustering any deal in the Senate until the markets crash. Who's going to bend the Senate's sacred rules to force those traitors (yes, that's what they are) from filibustering the USA into default?

    I predict that in the end Obama is going to try a desperation invoking of the 14th Amendment--probably as the Dow is crashing and S&P is downgrading the US credit rating to junkbond status.

    And then the patriotic Repugs will vote to impeach Obama for high crimes and misdemeanors.

    Well, at least that might wake up the American public at last.

  • jdog on July 18, 2011 11:19 AM:

    It will almost certainly require leadership in the House to bring an item to the floor than can get votes from approximately 40 Democrats. This will rupture the Republican caucus.

    Or, perhaps we need to begin a calamity first, before Republicans realize what a disaster they have wrought.

  • Trollop on July 18, 2011 11:38 AM:

    Heads are going to roll. This should be interesting!

  • Hannah on July 18, 2011 12:14 PM:

    Can't we find some way to lock DeMint and any other stupid R Senators who might filibuster in a closet for the next couple of weeks? Or better yet, kidnap them and make them live at La Chureca for a while, so they can get a glimpse of where this country is headed if they continue their foolishness. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Chureca

  • Jon on July 18, 2011 12:15 PM:

    What I don't understand is: If the GOP leadership has admitted that the debt ceiling must pass, then isn't it also true that they no longer have any bargaining chip whatsoever? They can no longer make demands. If it must pass, then Democrats can just insist it pass as a clean bill without any concessions.

    I think Obama/Reid have just decided that it's wise to leave the GOP leadership with a shred of cover at the end of this. But just a shred -- I bet the cost savings in the bill will be approximately as mythical as those the Democrats conceded in the budget negotiations.

  • Doug on July 18, 2011 10:07 PM:

    "Isn't it time then that the White House sets aside its plans for any multi-trillion dollar debt-reduction 'Grand Bargain'and simply push for a clean increase?" square1 @ 8:29 AM.

    I can think of no way more certain to guarantee total Republican/Teabaggers opposition to a clean bill than for President Obama to start "pushing" for one. Remember, we're dealing with spoiled pre-schoolers here.

    "...but are there 30 moderate Republicans who'd vote with the Democrats..." Gussie @ 8:49 AM.

    Possibly, but remember, Boehner needs the support of 50% + 1 of his caucus in order to remain Speaker. I firmly believe THAT is what has caused this to drag out so long. Boehner has to get enough of his caucus frightened enough of the consequences of NOT raising the debt ceiling to overcome their fear of the Teabaggers. Pitiful, isn't it?

    As for the Senate, I understand that Majority Leader Reid is keeping the Senate in session until August 2, including weekends. IF something comes out of the House by the end of this week, there will just be enough time. Even taking Demint's sabotage into account.