So, yesterday I used “terrorists” and Republicans in the same sentence. Not that Republicans are terrorists, but there’s a certain similar political logic to what they are doing. Both Chait and Yglesias settle on the much more subtle, “hostage takers.” Both posts were really smart. Chait:
Congress has been voting to raise the debt ceiling for years. The minority party typically uses the vote to embarrass the majority. They have never previously considered using such a vote to win substantive concessions.
So why is this happening now? I think it’s pretty clear that the Obama administration’s approach to hostage-taking is to blame. Last December, Republicans expressed their willingness to let something they at least claimed not to want happen — expiration of the Bush tax cuts on income under $250,000 — unless they received additional concessions. Obama shrugged and said, “the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed.”
When it came to approving the budget resolution, the same situation occurred. John Boehner’s official position was that a government shutdown would be bad. But he’d do it if he didn’t get some concessions. Obama paid up once more.
Why wouldn’t Republicans try it again? And again, and again, and again? It’s normal in politics to hold your opponent’s priorities hostage — I’ll oppose your nominee unless you give me this bill. But when you can hold mutually-held priorities hostage, then you have almost unlimited power.
I.e., obviously Boehner wants to raise the debt ceiling as well, he’s just not actually saying so. Or he is, but insisting that Democrats need to make concessions for Boehner to do what he actually wants to do. And Boehner does want to raise the debt ceiling because all reasonable (yes, grading on a curve Boehner is definitely in that category) understand that it’s really bad for us not to, and the overlords of the Republican Party, i.e., big Business, damn sure don’t want this creating any economic trouble.
Yglesias lays out a strategy that seems awfully sensible to me, but maybe I’m missing something:
It’s a two pronged strategy. The first one is a credible, repeated commitment not to surrender anything in exchange for getting congress to agree to the debt ceiling being increased. After all, why should anything be given up. Everyone knows that increasing the debt ceiling is the right thing to do. If the government were operating under uniform Republican control, the GOP would be increasing the debt ceiling. There’s nothing to bargain over. If some members of congress genuinely think that no increase in the debt ceiling is a superior options to raising it, then they’re entitled to be wrong. But there’s no reason that Obama should be trading votes with guys like John Boehner who know perfectly well that an increase is in order. This frames the issue correctly as one of whether or not Republicans who think an increase is warranted will nonetheless refuse to allow one in order to extract unrelated concessions.
Prong two? Keep the government paying for things Democrats value and stop paying the bills due for things that Republicans value.
I’m going to be really curious to see how Obama plays this. I still believe Obama is a very capable and smart politician, but I am starting to doubt him a bit in matters such as this.