It appears that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has a new plan for Republicans to apparently get a political victory out of raising the debt ceiling at the end of this month. House Republicans met Monday night in the Capitol basement to discuss the bill they will propose and vote on before the House recesses this week. It looks like Boehner is pushing his caucus to agree on fully restoring military pensions in return for raising the debt ceiling. The cost of restoring these benefits is roughly $7 billion.
If you are confused, you should be. What Boehner and Republican leadership are asking for now is to RAISE federal government spending in order to increase the country’s borrowing limit. This is completely opposite from what the GOP has done since taking over the House in 2011. We’ve had to deal with made-up crisis after crisis because we’ve been told that our spending is too high and that we need reciprocal spending cuts when increasing the debt limit, otherwise we run the risk of out-of-control debt that will cripple our grandchildren.
By attempting this gambit, Boehner and Republicans are proving what this has always been about. This is all just to get political points for their party. All they want to do is show their constituents that they took it to Obama and got something in return. In this case, they know that retirement benefits for veterans is popular among most conservatives, as they don’t really consider those ‘entitlements’ or ‘social welfare.’ So if they can score some political points this month, then they are going to use this debt ceiling increase to get something.
There are a couple of things at play here, though, that make it nearly impossible that Boehner will get what he wants. First off, he still has to contend with a Tea Party section of his caucus that will not go for this due to the lack of spending cuts. With an increase of spending, they will flatly reject it. Even if Boehner can convince them that the pensions are being paid for by reciprocal, automatic spending cuts already built into the current budget, they will still see this as capitulation. Any increase in government spending is bad, even if it comes out as a net zero. The debt ceiling is to be used as a tool to get further reductions in spending, not increases.
Without Tea Party support, this bill will not pass with solely Republican votes. Therefore, Boehner is hoping to use the prospect of helping out veterans to bring some Democrats over. Obviously, the vast majority of House Democrats approve of providing increased pensions to veterans. However, led by the President, Democrats have held firm on their stance that the debt ceiling shall not be used as a bargaining chip for political gain. Thus, Boehner is sorely mistaken if he thinks he can force the Democrats’ hand on this one.
They will easily be able to explain that Boehner is just looking for some kind of political treat to toss to his caucus in front of the mid-term elections. Something that can show that the Republicans can use the budget and debt ceiling as bargaining tools to get what they want. If he is really determined to restore cuts made to military pensions, then he would have no problem bringing it up as a separate bill. That kind of bill would get overwhelming support from Democrats. But Dems will not fall prey to being forced to approve another measure in order to maintain the country’s full faith and credit.
In the end, Boehner knows that he will end up having to send over a clean bill increasing the debt ceiling. Many in his own party have already told him this. He also knows that he’ll have to rely on Democrats to carry it, as while many Republicans know that this battle is lost, and they don’t want to deal with the repercussions of another ugly debt ceiling fight that will only hurt them further in the polls, they still will not vote for it in order to preserve their conservative voting records.
Have we finally come to the point where Republicans realize that they cannot use the debt ceiling to take America hostage? Possibly. But Republicans still need to make a show of it this month. Boehner will do everything possible to try to sully Democrats over the next two weeks before sheepishly presenting a clean bill at the end of the month. The President and Democrats will win this battle, easily.