Political Animal


July 26, 2011 9:25 AM With seven days to go

By Steve Benen

Yesterday brought us two competing speeches and two competing plans, but where does that leave us exactly one week before the nation loses its ability to its bills? Nowhere good.

Among Democrats, leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue seemed to accept Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) plan as the least offensive of the remaining alternatives. Though President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had both committed to a compromise with at least some revenue, both threw their support to Reid’s blueprint yesterday.

On the other side of the aisle, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) continues to push his alternative, even though he knows it’s likely to be rejected by the Senate and the White House. Late yesterday afternoon, however, the Speaker had another problem: the right doesn’t like his plan, either.

With few House Democrats expected to support his approach, Boehner would need the support of an overwhelming majority of his 240-member conference.

But those hopes were dampened Monday by conservative opposition to the plan, highlighted by Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), who leads a conservative caucus of more than 170 GOP members. Jordan is one of 39 House Republicans who previously took a pledge vowing to increase the debt ceiling only in return for Congress sending to the states a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.

Boehner also won’t get much in the way of support from the activist base.

No sooner did House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unveil his plan to raise the country’s debt ceiling and avoid default than a coalition of conservative groups and lawmakers panned the proposal.

The Cut, Cap and Balance Coalition is a group of more than 100 conservative groups and several dozen lawmakers in both chambers who have called for passage of a balanced budget amendment in exchange for a vote to raise the country’s debt ceiling. The group said in a statement Monday afternoon that the plan put forth by House Republican leaders “falls short of meeting (the coalition’s) principles.”

This is critically important. Boehner’s entire strategy at this point rests on his ability to pass his bill and dare the Senate and White House to reject it. But this only works if the Speaker can get enough votes from his own caucus — and of yesterday, that was far from certain.

There are 240 House Republicans, and it will take 217 votes to pass Boehner’s plan, which will likely get little or no Democratic support. Are there more than two dozen far-right GOP lawmakers who’ll balk? We’ll find it tomorrow, when the Speaker brings his measure to the floor.

The Senate leadership, meanwhile, appears likely to wait — if Boehner’s bill dies in the House, Reid’s compromise may suddenly become the only plan left standing.

And what if the House kills Boehner’s plan and rejects Reid’s plan? We’re all 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 26, 2011 9:33 AM:

    "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what the f*ck they do..."

    Party Uber Alles!!!

  • maggie on July 26, 2011 9:36 AM:

    I so wanted Obama to say last night "FU, I'm involking the 14th and raising the debt ceiling on my own." Then walk off. And flipping the bird on the way out would have been a nice touch.

  • bigtuna on July 26, 2011 9:39 AM:

    to wit: From Jason Chaffetz, congressman from Utah 3rd, and the likely opponent to stormin orrin, on the boner plan:

    “I don’t see anyway I can support it,” Chaffetz said. “I plan to stand tall on principle. Too many in the past have caved. That is why we are in this mess.”

    so let's watch the bond markets and rating agencies the next few days, and see where standing on principle will get us ...

  • Danp on July 26, 2011 9:40 AM:

    If Boehner is waiting for something 217 Republicans will vote for, he owns the problem, even as it fails in the Senate. If 5 Dem senators vote for such a bill, the whole party loses every bit of credibility it ever had.

  • SadOldVet on July 26, 2011 9:42 AM:

    It is a damn shame that I give a damn about anyone other than myself!

    I have a house that is paid for; I have health insurance for the rest of my life (V.A.); and I will start collecting Social Security within a year or two. Even if we default, I expect that long-term my investments will only take about a 25% hit and I can survive that.

    Unfortunately, I do give a damn about my son and grandkids and I do give a damn about the working people of my country.


  • square1 on July 26, 2011 9:42 AM:

    Of course they could always pass a clean bill.

    Can I ask a serious (if rhetorical) question? Why is it that when liberals want an a piece of moderately liberal legislation, that they are endlessly lectured to by Centrists for being "purists" but President Obama is allowed to pursue his Grand Bargain fantasy even at the coat of economic disaster?

    How many times have we heard lectures from Centrists that liberals "can't get 100% of what they want"? Or that liberals "can't make the perfect the enemy of the good"?

    And yet, here we are, days (at best) away from another economic crisis, apparently because President Obama refuses to give up on his dream of a Grand Bargain. Where are the Centrist scolds now? Why aren't they telling Obama that he cant let the perfect be the enemy of the good?

  • Ron Byers on July 26, 2011 9:42 AM:

    We are all screwed.

    If he changed his plan some, Boehner might be able to find votes in the Democratic caucus, but that would imperil his speakership.

    When Reid's plan comes forward it will be necessary for some house Republicans to move to it. That is unlikely given they would be primaried by the tea party. The Republican Suicide Squad is taking us all off the cliff.

    If I wanted to play the blame game, it would be at the Democratic party leadership who failed to recognize the need to channel the populism that was inevitable in 2009 to its side.

  • Alan Tomlinson on July 26, 2011 9:44 AM:

    Or Obama could simply declare that the debt limit has been raised and wait for the supremes to rule. I'd be fine with that. The GOP would try to impeach him, it would fail and so, ultimately, would they.


    Alan Tomlinson

  • ComradeAnon on July 26, 2011 9:44 AM:

    Yea, it's time for the President to take control. That would have been a great moment if Maggie's comment had happened. Might have even gotten my support back.

  • steve duncan on July 26, 2011 9:46 AM:

    There are reports the debt ceiling may not be reached until approximately 1 week later than current projections of August 2nd. Barclays Capital research shows higher revenue receipts and slightly lower outlays, allowing another week before technical default. I wonder if we'll see this factor into the budget negotiations (if true) or will Geithner feel politically compelled to stick with his current deadline projection?


  • leo on July 26, 2011 9:51 AM:

    It's Gingrich v. Clinton all over again.

  • walt on July 26, 2011 9:52 AM:

    Obama validated the right-wing extortion at the outset so he bears responsibility, too. When you embolden sociopaths with your eagerness to compromise bad things will happen. So, even if we assume some deal before the deadline, the Republicans can legitimately claim victory and use the next debt-ceiling expiration to bargain for more and deeper cuts to the safety net. While public opinion is closer to Obama than the Tea Party, it's not much a rallying cry to say "we'll cut your Medicare but won't like it!".

    We need to care about politics not because we're the good guys but because it concerns real people with real problems just as there are real assholes who use politics to amass more wealth and power. Most of us here are so inside the game that we can get lost in the day-to-day drama without understanding this. Somebody you know is going to be hurt by the deals Obama is so eager to make with Republicans. If this isn't personal to you, you're not fully human.

  • Josef K on July 26, 2011 9:54 AM:

    And what if the House kills Boehner’s plan and rejects Reid’s plan? We’re all screwed.

    With the notable exception of Eric Cantor and any investment firms who plan to short sell T-Bonds.

    Makes you (almost) wonder if this all wasn't deliberate, doesn't it?

  • Patrick Star on July 26, 2011 9:56 AM:

    At this point, I honestly think most Americans would be RELIEVED if Obama just invoked the 14th and raised the damn ceiling, and get beyond this train wreck. Both D and R "deficit reduction" plans SUCK; the status quo is an infinitely better option, and I seriously doubt Obama would be hurt politically by invoking the 14th at this point.

  • brent on July 26, 2011 9:56 AM:

    And yet, here we are, days (at best) away from another economic crisis, apparently because President Obama refuses to give up on his dream of a Grand Bargain.

    I don't understand what you mean here. What solution do you see that Obama is neglecting? It seems to me that whatever hope Obama had for a grand bargain is long since past and right now, he is willing to sign any reasonable bill that could actually pass through both chambers. As far as I can tell, no such bill exists. How do you see things differently?

  • Kane on July 26, 2011 9:57 AM:

    We had better get used to the idea that this tea party crowd is going to be around for a while. Some might only survive one term, but others are in very safe districts where their only potential challenge will come from those representi­ng policies even further to the right.

    While a great deal of attention has been focused on the impasse over the debt ceiling, it has become quite clear that the impasse is not limited solely to the issue of the debt ceiling. There is an impasse on every single issue, including getting Americans back to work. It has become obvious to many observers that this congress will not pass any legislatio­n that could help the economy and which might look remotely favorably upon President Obama.

  • ElegantFowl on July 26, 2011 9:57 AM:

    Reid's plan will be supported by Wall St because it creates another catfood commission empowered to cut Social Security and Medicare by simple majority votes.

    So my prediction is Boehner's plan fails, Reid's plan succeeds after much drama (and Reps getting touched by Wall St), then we're in for another cycle.

    Conservatives lost this opportunity to cut SS/Medicare, so the crisis will continue. Since there aren't any consequences to ongoing crisis (bankers and executives will do fine), the crisis will continue until we surrender the SS program and the trust fund created with worker's wages. That's the true objective here.

  • dr. bloor on July 26, 2011 9:58 AM:

    If Reid's bill is the last option standing, I don't see it dying in the House. Pelosi will get the Dems in line, and the WH and Boehner can horse trade (remember that?) to peel off enough R votes to get it through.

  • Bob on July 26, 2011 9:59 AM:

    Like others, I was hoping to hear Obama say something along the lines of "I will not, under any circumstances, allow the credit of the US to be damaged..."

    One thought: is Boehner the most inept speaker of the house EVER???

  • Xenos on July 26, 2011 10:00 AM:

    Can Pelosi put out a clean debt limit bill without GOP approval for a vote? Can she even get a vote called to consider voting for a clean bill?

  • T2 on July 26, 2011 10:04 AM:

    I think that the House vote on Boner's plan is the key. IF it passes, He can take the high road and force the Dems hand. IF it fails due to lack of Tea-nut support, he's done. Then Reid can watch his plan fail in the House and when it does, he's done. That leaves Obama and the 14th amendment OR a last minute "clean" bill with a bunch of Dem concessions attached to it. The problem is that I'm not sure Obama has the nerve to do the 14th, and I don't think he has an alternate "clean" plan. He'd better get one or the other ready.

  • brent on July 26, 2011 10:05 AM:

    And what if the House kills Boehner’s plan and rejects Reid’s plan? We’re all screwed.

    Well there can be no serious doubt that that is exactly what will happen so why even bother worrying about that at this stage. I can't imagine that there are too many people out there who believe that there are enough Republican votes in the house to pass a congressional version of Reid's bill. The 14th Amendment thing being bandied about is a pretty thin reed that strikes me as patently unconstitutional but what other choice is there at this stage. This House of Representatives will not be raising the debt limit. Pretending otherwise is delusional in my opinion. Time to think outside the box.

  • berttheclock on July 26, 2011 10:08 AM:

    At last night's presidential lectern, why could we have not had a General McAuliffe step to the microphone and say "Nuts". Or, even, a General Chesty Puller instead of a timid McCellan begging "Send your cards and letters". Remember, Mr President, history is kind to the brave, never the timid or reluctant.

    Even the detested Nathan Bedford Forest, the, now, titular head of the RepuGnant Party, when surrounded, would split his forces into two groups and Charge and dismantle the Union troops. Mr President, learn the meaning of Elan.

  • Michael on July 26, 2011 10:20 AM:

    Ya know, Mr. Obama's predecessor made a whole lot of presidential directives and secret findings (with the support of David Addington and his theory of the "unitary executive") and these were not, as I recall, canceled by the last election. I have little doubt that Mr. Bush left Mr. Obama with a number of options for dealing with this Republican-manufactured "crisis." I have no doubt that the "Party of No" will begin impeachment hearings if a Democratic president uses the tools bequeathed him by his Republican predecessor, but this could blow up in their faces if Mr. Obama defends himself by releasing the full details of Mr. Bush's use of the same tools. If this ends up being the only path to avoid default the Republicans could find themselves hoisted on their own petard.

  • E. D. on July 26, 2011 10:21 AM:

    Yes, Maggie is right. That would have been a great moment for us all. It's time for the President to act for the country and to hell with the republicans.

  • Joe Friday on July 26, 2011 10:36 AM:

    If Harry Reid and the Dems pass essentially a clean bill with some token cuts so they can utilize reconciliation requiring only 50 votes, send it over to the House and LEAVE TOWN, then Obama can be on camera at the White House holding his pen saying he will sign the legislation as soon as the House DOES IT'S JOB and passes the Senate bill.

    The Insane Clown Posse would have to pass it or default, and the pressure from Wall Street and the business community would be ENORMOUS.

  • cmdicely on July 26, 2011 11:51 AM:

    The 14th Amendment thing being bandied about is a pretty thin reed that strikes me as patently unconstitutional but what other choice is there at this stage.

    The War Powers Act is patently unconstitutional as well (in fact, both proponents and opponents of executive power see it that way: proponents as an unconstitutional restriction on executive power inherent under the Constitution, and opponents as an unconstitutional delegation of power reserved to Congress in the Constitution.) But under Supreme Court precedent the only possible standing to bring a case is a dispute between Congress and the President (and "Congress" means both Houses together acting through majorities), and enough people want to avoid it getting litigated to avoid the risk of validating the other position that a justiciable case is unlikely to ever reach the Court.

    Similarly, here, there is certainly room to debate the Constitutionality of the executive continuing to pay based on appropriations in the budget even beyond the ceiling established in the debt ceiling bill, but, by the same precedent, its going to take majorities in both Houses of Congress to bring a justiciable complaint to the courts (impeachment provides an alternative remedy, but that requires cooperation of even more of the Senate.) There's no particularized harm realized by anyone else that would allow anyone other than the Congress, through joint action, to bring a case.