John Boehner’s secret

He knows a debt default will ravage the economy, but can he stave one off without losing his job?

Topics: Opening Shot, John Boehner, Debt ceiling, Barack Obama,

According to Politico’s reporting, John Boehner “will never allow a (debt) default, even if it puts his leadership position at risk.” The speaker, supposedly, understands the catastrophic economic fallout that a default would unleash and is busily trying to convince his fellow House Republicans to look elsewhere for leverage in their ongoing fiscal fight with President Obama and Democrats.

There’s good reason to believe this reporting, since virtually no one outside the far-right echo chamber has any illusions about the consequences of failing to extend the debt ceiling. But could it really come to such a stark choice for Boehner: Stave off a default and lose his job as speaker or allow one and get to hang around?

There are a few ways of looking at Boehner’s dilemma right now. As the fiscal cliff fight seemed to make clear, the majority of the House Republican Conference is actually (and quietly) a lot like Boehner – members who are ideologically conservative but who recognize how destructive Tea Party orthodoxy has become, both from a governing standpoint and in terms of the party’s overall image. But, like Boehner, they’re still scared of defying it, of being branded traitors to the cause, and of losing their jobs to Tea Party-backed primary challenges. This led to the January 1 spectacle, when the vast majority of House Republicans voted against the fiscal cliff deal – even as Boehner was assuring the public that most of them wanted it to pass.

It raises a question as the debt ceiling battle takes shape: Even if most House Republicans understand the necessity of raising the borrowing limit, how many of them will actually be willing to go on the record doing so if it means encouraging a primary challenge?

Some of this depends on the context. Obama has been adamant that he won’t engage in any direct negotiations over the debt ceiling, a departure from the summer of 2011, the last time we flirted with default. (Arguably, Obama did also negotiate over the debt ceiling last month, demanding first that any fiscal cliff deal include a permanent end to debt ceiling brinksmanship, then signaling he’d accept a one- or two-year extension, and then finally signing a deal that left the debt ceiling untouched.) But there are several other deadlines looming too: The $1.2 trillion sequester, scheduled to kick in on March 1, and the late-March expiration of the continuing resolution that funds the government. Plus, Obama has consistently demonstrated a desire to strike a sweeping compromise with Republicans on taxes and safety net spending – some version of the “grand bargain” he and Boehner nearly agreed to in ‘11.



So there’s a chance that the next few weeks will bring progress toward a deal that Republicans could live with – one that would give Boehner cover to push through some kind of debt ceiling extension with Republican support and without fear of losing his speakership.

That said, the closer you look at the concessions that would be required to pull off a deal like this, the harder it is to see it happening. Republicans have taken serious abuse from their base for the fiscal cliff deal, which included a modest tax hike but deferred big questions about Social Security, Medicare and spending in general. Thus, GOP leaders are now insisting that any new agreement must address spending cuts only – with taxes completely off the table. But the Obama administration believes the fiscal cliff tax hikes were just a down payment, and that any spending cuts in a new deal will be off-set – dollar for dollar – by increased revenue. Add in the continuing refusal of Republicans to spell out what, specifically, they want cut from Medicare and Social Security, and the prospects of a deal dim further.

This is what could lead to the doomsday scenario for Boehner that Politico outlined. If no “grand bargain” materializes, the first deadline we’ll hit will be the debt ceiling, about a month from now. Boehner and other influential Republicans are apparently trying hard to convince Tea Party true-believers to use the other deadlines – the sequester and the C.R. expiration – to make their stand on taxes, given the havoc that would be caused by a default.

If a solid chunk of House conservatives buy into this – and if they are backed by opinion-shaping voices on the right like Rush Limbaugh, Jim DeMint and Fox News – then Boehner should be safe. He can get a debt ceiling hike through and then force a showdown with Obama less dire overtones. In that event, the worst that would happen is that the sequester as currently constituted would go into effect, delivering a blow to the economy – but nothing nearly as severe as a default. Or the C.R. would expire and the government would shut down in the absence of a new agreement. It’s just a guess, but if the 1995 shutdown (Clinton vs. Gingrich) is any clue, public opinion would side against the GOP and quickly yield a deal more favorable to the White House’s terms. Either way, Boehner would probably get credit from the right for putting up a real fight.

But if the true believers can’t be talked out of forcing a debt ceiling showdown, Boehner could be in serious trouble with his conference. Without a deal with Obama to sell, he’d be left to put a last-minute bill on the floor raising the debt ceiling. He’d probably be able to get enough Republicans to go along with him (all of them taking a chance on a possible 2014 primary challenge), but the risk of a coup would be real.

That said, there is something that might save Boehner in such a situation: Obama, who seems to get nervous and deal-happy when deadlines approach. He stepped in at the last minute to cut a fiscal cliff deal with Mitch McConnell a few weeks ago, undercutting Harry Reid and Senate Democrats in the process. If a debt default were days away, it’s not hard to see Obama suddenly making serious concessions to Boehner and the GOP – cuts to the safety net that would infuriate the Democratic base but would be enough to allow Boehner to sell the plan to his conference.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • 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>