Cracks in the GOP debt-ceiling wall

The leadership is showing jitters about a default apocalypse, but Tea Party crazies could still force it anyway

Topics: Debt ceiling, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Tea Party, ,

Cracks in the GOP debt-ceiling wall (Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

I agree with Greg Sargent – I made the same point on “Hardball” yesterday – that there’s growing evidence Republican congressional leadership is nervous about forcing a second debt ceiling showdown with President Obama.

Sure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to take it off the table on the Sunday shows – but he also refused to commit to it. McConnell, who famously chuckled about how the 2011 disgrace showed the debt ceiling was “a hostage worth taking,” pointed to other GOP opportunities for a budget showdown, including the upcoming sequester deadline and the continuing resolution to keep the government running.

Maybe more significant, House Speaker John Boehner told the Club for Growth’s Stephen Moore that while the debt ceiling is  “one point of leverage,” he “hedges,” in Moore’s words, insisting it’s “not the ultimate leverage.” Boehner thinks the sequester is the GOP’s “stronger card,” Moore wrote in the Wall Street Journal, and Moore agrees, insisting, “It now appears that the president made a severe political miscalculation when he came up with the sequester idea in 2011.”

Of course, as measured by the capacity to inflict catastrophe, Boehner and Moore are wrong. The threat to hit the debt ceiling is a much more destructive weapon to aim at Obama and Democrats — and of course the economy – than sequester cuts or a government shutdown.

Boehner also suggested that raising the debt ceiling, but only for a month, and continuing with monthly votes indefinitely, would be a better plan than an Armageddon next month. But GOP Rep. Tom Cole publicly disagreed on MSNBC today. “No, I actually think that’s a very short-sighted way to do it. I would hope the president presents some sort of solution that’s much longer term than that.”

Newt Gingrich, of all people, was an early doubter on taking the debt ceiling hostage again, calling it a “dead loser,” and urging House Republicans to find “a totally new strategy.” But Gingrich remains a big fan of a government shutdown, delusionally insisting on “Meet the Press” Sunday: “I helped close the government twice. It actually worked. Bill Clinton came in and said the era of big government is over AFTER two closings, not before.”



Newt clearly hasn’t learned the lessons of 1995, when his shutdown led to Clinton’s overwhelming reelection, and his party’s further overreach on impeachment led to the Democrats actually picking up seats in 1998, the first time in ages that the president’s party didn’t lose seats in his second-term midterm election.

A government shutdown, while terrible, is far less horrific than another debt ceiling crisis. The sequester’s domestic program budget cuts make it somewhat more terrible than a shutdown, which would by definition be temporary. Still, the fact that half the cuts would hit defense makes it harder to expect the GOP to simply live with it, which was the whole point of the pain-spreading sequester in the first place.

Of course, Tea Party crazies and other GOP extremists could still conceivably force a debt-ceiling showdown, and possibly deny Boehner the votes to lift the ceiling if he tried to do it. In the National Journal, Arkansas Rep. Tim Griffin scoffed at polls showing the GOP suffered from the fiscal-cliff showdown and would likely bear the same burden in a debt-ceiling standoff. “At the end of the day, the only poll that matters is the one in people’s districts. I’m focused on the people in my district,” Griffin said. “National polls include people in Nancy Pelosi’s district, Henry Waxman’s district …  I don’t work for them, and I’m not real worried about the national polls.”

Yet the fiscal cliff deal pointed to the contours of a sane debt-ceiling vote, with virtually all House Democrats and a sizable rump of Republicans ultimately voting in favor of the compromise. Of course there’s no guarantee Boehner could line up those 85 votes again, and Pelosi couldn’t afford to sacrifice a whole lot of Democrats with a bad deal.

Still, there’s evidence that GOP leadership will blink sooner this time as the ceiling approaches than they did in 2011. As Sargent concludes:

GOP leaders want to be granted the presumption of leverage based on the threat of default, yet they are not prepared to deliver on that threat. Even worse, they need to somehow signal publicly that they are not really serious about default as an option — otherwise the business community will come down on them hard — while simultaneously maintaining the public posture that the debt ceiling hike really is something Dems will need to pay for with concessions of their own.

They still have some leverage to force cuts, of course, with both the sequester negotiations and the government shutdown deadline. And if Obama still wants a “grand bargain,” he could use those threats to try again, as I wrote on Sunday. But if he can’t get one — again — the threats of either the sequester cuts or a shutdown are far less frightening than defaulting on our debts. So it’s easier to imagine the president and leading Democrats holding firm, as well they should.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>