GOP's predictable, dramatic nonsense: Here come the empty debt ceiling threats

Even Michele Bachmann says a clean debt limit should pass. But that won't stop some fake demands from coming

Published February 6, 2014 7:00PM (EST)

                                                        (Jeffrey Malet, maletphoto/Reuters/Jason Reed)
(Jeffrey Malet, maletphoto/Reuters/Jason Reed)

So here we are again, only one day away from the now very ordinary process of Treasury taking "extraordinary measures" to pay the bills as we near the debt ceiling. There's something a little different about this one, though. After President Obama finally took a stand by not negotiating over the last short-term raise, there doesn't seem to be the typical, lingering doubt that Republicans may blow this thing up. Everyone knows it's going to happen, even the members themselves. And yet the typical motions have to be gone through, as muscle memory at this point.

For the first time, we have actual conservative House Republicans -- who in previous years demanded amendments to the Constitution, a radical overhaul/elimination of large social insurance programs, the repeal of the president's signature legislation, and whatever other longtime ideological ideals they could conjure in exchange for even thinking about raising the debt ceiling -- saying, this is dumb, let's pass a "clean" bill and move on.  

There are the typical "moderate" Boehner allies and Pete Kings who always want to just get it out of the way. Then there's these two:

“We should bring up a clean debt ceiling, let the Democrats pass it, and just move on,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said. “Our constituents are fed up with the political theater. If we’re not going to fight for something specific, we might as well let the Democrats own it.”

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) agreed. “It’s theater,” he said, commenting on the latest flurry of stories about possible GOP plans. “It’s going to end up being clean anyway. I don’t see anything they can put on the table that I would support as some sort of tradeoff.”

“There is a pragmatism here,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). “You’ve got to know when to hold them and when to fold them. My assessment is that most of us don’t think it’s the time to fight.” 

It's fascinating how a little decision to retire from Congress can focus the mind. Ooooooonly a few years ago, in 2011, Michele Bachmann was running for president, and her chief campaign tactic was to promise that she would never raise the debt ceiling. She even blamed that summer's downgrade of U.S. debt on the fact that the debt ceiling was raised. Now that she's not running for anything, it's apparently time to "know when to hold them and when to fold them." People sure can be full of shit sometimes. Anyway ... where were we? Good for Michele Bachmann, we guess.

John Boehner and the House leadership are now in the strange position of knowing personally that a more or less clean bill is going to prevail, knowing that most of their conference knows that and is fine with that, and still having to run through the gamut of potential options that won't work out, just for the sake of tradition. And so, we watch as the demands are whittled down.

Demand construction of the Keystone XL pipeline? Eh, no. Eliminate Obamacare's risk corridors? Whatever, no. Now the hot new idea is reversing cuts to benefits for military personnel implemented in the Ryan-Murray budget agreement passed a couple of months ago. Ooooh! That's not a bad idea, right? Everyone from both parties would vote for that. The problem, however, is that since that would increase spending, there would be a call for offsets. And since the offsets the House Republicans would come up with would likely be of the "banning meals for poor people" variety, the measure would go nowhere once -- or if -- it leaves the House.

So this, as usual, will end with an effectively clean bill attached to not-actually-face-saving sop, like a mean letter to President Obama calling him a commie tyrant. Everyone understands this. And that's why there's a new sense of calm to the theater act this time. We're about to hit the "extraordinary measures" mark and people are choosing instead to freak out about a dumb CBO report. Everything's going to be all right! (Unless I totally just jinxed it with this piece, in which case, enjoy the Apocalypse.)

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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