House Republicans Draft Ransom Notes on the Debt Limit

boehner-ransom-note

House Republicans just can’t get a break.

Their 37th vote to repeal Obamacare drew widespread mockery and progressives dominated the GOP’s anti-Obamacare Twitter hashtag. Their fevered scandal-mongering concerned even conservatives, especially as the faux-scandals collapsed amidst media resentment of GOP evidence-tampering. Sure, Fox News found a Tea Party hack to say “This is Nazi Germany,” but only the right fringe takes such foolishness seriously.

In just two days, they’d gone from frothing over impeachment to being told to shut up about impeachment. The whiplash must have been painful. (Note to Republicans: Obamacare covers that.)

So House Republicans returned to a more familiar hobbydrafting ransom notes:

The good news: This time around, most GOP lawmakers agree that they probably should not block a debt-limit increase, halt Treasury borrowing and let the government default on its obligations. According to GOP aides who attended the meeting, the “hell no” caucus appears to be radically diminished.

The bad news for President Obama: Republicans will demand some kind of prize for voting to raise the debt limit, preferably some policy that serves to reduce the debt. They say they will not simply roll over again, as they did in January when they voted without much fuss to suspend enforcement of the debt limit through this weekend.

“It’s pretty clear we’re not going to do that. That one, I can guarantee you,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said as he left the meeting[.]

House Republicans are struggling to draft their ransom note because the Congressional Budget Office brought them more bad news this week. It seems the deficit, the Holy Grail about which they really don’t care except as leverage to shred the social safety net, is at a five-year low. And that doesn’t look to be just a short-term dip:

The last time the CBO estimated our future deficits was February – just four short months ago. Back then, the CBO thought deficits were falling and health-care costs were slowing. Today, the CBO thinks deficits are falling even faster and health-care costs are slowing by even more.

Here’s the short version: Washington’s most powerful budget nerds have cut their prediction for 2013 deficits by more than $200 billion. They’ve cut their projections for our deficits over the next decade by more than $600 billion. Add it all up and our 10-year deficits are looking downright manageable.

We can debate whether we’ve cut the deficit too quickly – we probably have, says Nobel laureate Paul Krugman – but howls of “the budget deficit is exploding out of control” simply aren’t true.

Without the deficit to justify their demands to gut the social safety net – yet not wanting to be responsible and increase the debt ceiling to pay for spending they’ve already approved – House Republicans found themselves stumbling around for a good ransom, as the Washington Post‘s Lori Montgomery wrote:

At the meeting, 39 lawmakers lined up at microphones to offer suggestions. They ranged from tax and entitlement reform to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to passage of a bill that would require congressional approval for any federal regulation that would impose more than $100 million in new costs on business.

At least one person wanted to take on late-term abortion in the wake of the murder conviction of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell. Others suggested repeal or delay of Obama’s health-care initiative. But for the most part, lawmakers tried to be “realistic,” aides said, suggesting measures that could reasonably be expected to both improve the economy and pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.

In other words, Republicans are planning to threaten default unless they get concessions that have absolutely nothing to do with the federal debt. But they can’t say they’re threatening default, because that made them very unpopular in 2011. On the other hand, as Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum notes:

Well, I’m glad to hear that Republicans plan on being realistic – though the fact that they’re discussing this at all implies that they are, in fact, willing to block a debt limit increase and force the government into default. You can’t have it both ways, after all. A hostage only does you any good if you make a credible threat to shoot him[.]

So that’s where House Republicans stand, or sit, or lie, cutting words out of magazines and newspapers, rearranging them, trying to find a “realistic” ransom demand that won’t make their already all-time low approval ratings sink even lower. It’s almost enough to make me feel sorry for them.

Almost.

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