In the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime, David Byrne repeats the line, “Same as it ever was.” That’s what I think of the upcoming debt ceiling showdown. I can’t find it, but there is a quote from some Republican in the House saying that he was going to use the debt ceiling to get what he wants because (this is a paraphrase), “You aren’t certain if I’m crazy enough to do it, but I know you aren’t.” It was clearly said with that typical, friendly unhinged tone that the true believers use thinking they are charming. All it really shows is that they don’t take their jobs seriously and think it is all a game.
Over the weekend, I learned from Jim Newell that the debt ceiling will not be reached on 3 November. What’s more, according to John Boehner and Paul Ryan, there are not enough votes in the House to pass a clean debt ceiling increase. In order to pass such a bill, the House would need 218 votes (assuming everyone voted). There are 188 Democrats in the house. Thus, there would need to be 30 Republicans voting for it — just 12% of their caucus. If we are to believe this, 90% of the House Republicans think that destroying the world economy is perfectly fine.
Of course, it is not true that there are fewer than 30 House Republicans who will vote to raise the debt ceiling. Boehner is using an invalid calculus. He takes the number of Republicans who voted for the last increase — there were 28 — and removes the third who are no longer in office. The truth is that the number of people who voted for it last time was the number of people who needed to vote for it. The rest of them just did what comes naturally: grandstand. It is certain that the vast majority of the House Republicans will take this vote if it is absolutely necessary.
And sure enough, The Hill reported this morning, White House, GOP Near Two-Year Budget Deal. Supposedly, a deal will be announced tonight that will set the budget and raise the ceiling until the next president is in office. The budget is supposed to roll back some of the sequester, so that’s a good thing. In fact, it is such a good thing that I find it hard to believe. But it is indicative of the fact that the House Republicans can do anything it wants to. There may be roughly 50 crazies in their caucus, but the power is still with the Republicans who are awful but not crazy.
What the whole “We don’t have the votes!” shows is that the Republican establishment is still committed to hostage taking. I suppose we can take some solace from the fact that they are not crazy. But they still wish to play dangerous games. And that might be okay if they were smart. But the fact remains that crazy or not, the House Republicans have not shown themselves to be competent at their jobs — much less clever — not to mention brilliant. If there is a deal in the works, it is a very good sign. But we can’t depend upon anything until Obama signs it into law. And then we have to wait for the next time the Republicans play this game.