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House Republicans May Unite Around a Debt Ceiling Ransom But They Are Still Screwed


As Congress gears up for another showdown over raising the debt ceiling, we are left, as a society, with two choices. The first is to lift the debt ceiling and prevent a worldwide economic catastrophe. The second is to not lift the debt ceiling and leave the world at the mercy of fascist weirdos, with only Kevin Costner to  protect us.

Because the second of these two options is unpalatable, reasonable people have called for lifting the debt ceiling.

The problem is that various House Republicans do not want to pass a "clean" debt ceiling bill, and are making various threats, which Jonathan Chait notes here. As most commentators have already written, these threats are unlikely to succeed, and the Obama administration is almost certain to emerge victorious. But this CW actually understates the extent of the whupping that the House GOP is likely to endure.

Misleadingly, much of the media coverage of the debt ceiling has presented the Democratic advantage as a result of disunity among House GOPers. Here is Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times

“We have to have party solidarity,” said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York. “Certainly we are the conservative party. But once consensus is reached, at least we have to allow that consensus to come to the floor for a vote, so John can bargain with Democrats from a position of strength.”

That approach has yet to be embraced by House conservatives, many of whom have signaled that they are not ready to simply acquiesce.

Meanwhile, a Politico story on Wednesday, 'House GOP Divided on Debt Ceiling,' explains the Party's debt limit problems as resulting from division: 

After several days of talks with their members, House Republican leaders have not been able to identify a debt ceiling package that could pass with only GOP support, according to multiple senior aides...In fact, they’re nowhere close.


Instead of coalescing around a unified strategy, groups of rank-and-file Republicans have expressed support for at least four different options: language to encourage the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, another provision that would change a part of Obamacare, reforms to Congress’s budgeting process and — in one of the most recent suggestions — reversing recent changes to the cost-of-living formula for the military.

The problem is that even if there was any unity on any of these things... it wouldn't matter one bit. As the Politico piece eventually concedes: 

The House Republican strategy was to attach something Democrats couldn’t refuse to the debt limit. But senior Senate Democratic aides say the items under discussion will be easy to resist.

Precisely. There were only two things that made debt ceiling hostage taking threatening. The first was that President Obama had shown a sometimes worrying willingness to compromise. But the last debt ceiling showdown proved that he grasped this problem. I suppose a deranged Republican might think that Obama will cave this time, despite successfully holding tough last year. But even if Obama were to fold, there is something else that has rendered the debt ceiling hostage racket useless. John Boehner, who quite obviously does not want to rely on the good graces of Kevin Costner, has shown that he won't let the country default. Not only is Obama unwilling to pay the ransom, then, but Boehner is unwilling to harm the economy. It's sort of like when someone gets kidnapped in a PG-rated movie: you know nothing too bad will be allowed to occur. 

To say that Democrats are winning because the GOP is divided is therefore incorrect. As Chait writes, "Everybody by this point recognizes what the actual outcome will be – [Republicans will] get nothing, and like it." The problem isn't a House divided: it's a House which has forgotten it conceded months ago. The media should ignore the division because it's irrelevant.