At the risk of mistaking advancement for artifice, I think we’re reaching the return-to-reality phase of the debt limit standoff, where Republican leaders figure out a way to answer to the right for their undelivered ransoms, and Democrats grudgingly help them preserve their honor, on the presumption that the risks of seeing this ritual humiliation to its conclusion are too severe.
This afternoon, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor met with their Democratic counterparts Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer to discuss a short-term debt limit increase. Almost as quickly as the news broke, Republicans assured reporters that the Democratic leaders — not they themselves — had requested the meeting.
Maybe that’s really all there is to it. Maybe the top two Democrats in the House just wanted to check in on the latest state of play, or let GOP leaders know what their members will or will not support.
But that’s just it — the only thing for these four to discuss in a formal setting right now is Democratic votes. GOP accession to the need for Democratic votes would be a first in this standoff. And if we’ve reached that phase, then Republicans are indeed in rapid retreat. Or at least on the precipice of it.
Today’s twin Op-Eds in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal by Cantor and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., give that impression too. Neither mentions Obamacare, which is the precipitating cause of the shutdown. Both ask longingly for negotiations with Democrats, without mentioning that they so far have only entertained negotiations under economic threat.
Indeed, the claim that Democrats “refuse to negotiate” is a lie by omission of the term “under threat.” There are 365 days in a year. Dems are willing to negotiate through about 335 of them. Republicans, only in the remaining 30 before default.
But the uproar on the right over the Democrats’ supposed refusal to “negotiate” has turned the mere prospect of a conversation about the debt limit into a concession of totemic significance. Even if the conversation is about how to walk Republicans back from the brink. Maybe Pelosi and Hoyer wanted to tell Cantor just how convincing they found his Op-Ed. But probably it’s the other thing. (Indeed, as this piece was in production, CNN reported that Republican leaders are accepting the need for a clean debt limit increase.) And if saying Pelosi and Hoyer requested that conversation is the thing GOP leaders need to prove their mettle — to prove they haven’t been disrespected — then it’s an easy thing for Democrats to give them.