Jonathan Chait wrote what I think is a very insightful article today, even if the title is a bit deceptive, House Republicans’ Ransom Demands Falling. What I would say is that their demands are changing, not falling. He provides some important history about the current standoff. The House Republican leadership (John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Paul Ryan) have been planning this blackmail scheme, most likely since Romney lost the last election. The idea was to use the Debt Ceiling to force Obama to accept the usual Republican budget policies. You know: cut tax rates (supposedly without cutting overall taxes, but you know how that goes), cut entitlements, and so on.
Unfortunately, Ted Cruz ruined their plan by getting all the Republicans to support a government shutdown threat to somehow end Obamacare. This was the real reason that Boehner was promising his caucus a fight on the Debt Ceiling and why he tried to get the continuing resolution (CR) out of the way. Most observers (Including me!) thought it was just Boehner’s usual short term planning: get the CR out of the way and then deal with the Debt Limit. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. I was right about one thing, though: all the supposed reasonable Republicans don’t exist. Boehner is just as extreme as all the rest; he may just be a little more tactical.
But there is one thing that I don’t understand. Chait claims, “The plan was hijacked by Ted Cruz and transformed into a scheme using a less effective hostage threat…” I understand that the Debt Ceiling is a far more dangerous threat. But is it more effective? After all, with a government shutdown threat, at least everyone knew that the Republicans would really do it. Other than the kooks (and I’m not even sure them), everyone admits that a Debt Ceiling breach is unthinkable. I’m so certain of it, in July I predicted that causing one would effectively mean the end of the Republican Party. So was a Debt Ceiling threat so very effective? Or was it just stupid?
I suspect that the difference between Ted Cruz and John Boehner is that Cruz really was willing to shoot the hostage. But he’s no idiot; he understands how important raising the Debt Ceiling is. So he took the CR hostage and shot it (shut down the government). The problem for the Republicans is that they’ve had very bad luck in the CR and Debt Ceiling crises coming at the same time. Of course, they knew this when they started. I suspect they never thought through how things were going to go once the two crises merged, as they now have.
All is not lost however. Chait has a very compelling idea for how we get out of this. It all comes from the fact (which I have commented on many times) that the Republicans believe their own bullshit. And now there is widespread belief among conservatives that “Obama won’t negotiate with us!” Well, if they really believe that, there’s the solution: Obama can “give into their demand” that he negotiate and in return we get a clean CR and Debt Ceiling rise. For the past many years, we’ve seen how being crazy has helped the GOP; now we may start to see how it hurts them.