House Republicans Serve Up A Hostage Menu To President Obama

House Republicans decided to write their latest debt ceiling demands on the back of a Chinese takeout menu. Their fortune cookie says “You will regret this.”

Rather than their usual cut-and-paste from magazines ransom note, House Republicans have come up with a menu of demands in exchange for extending the debt ceiling:

For a long-term deal, one that gives Treasury borrowing authority for three and a half years, Obama would have to agree to premium support. The plan to privatize Medicare, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Ryan budget, is the holy grail for conservatives who say major deficit-reduction can only be achieved by making this type of cut to mandatory spending. “If the president wants to go big, there’s a big idea,” said [Louisiana Rep. Steve] Scalise.

For a medium-sized increase in the debt limit, Republicans want Obama to agree to cut spending in the SNAP food-stamp program, block-grant Medicaid, or tinker with chained CPI.

For a smaller increase, there is talk of means-testing Social Security, for example, or ending certain agricultural subsidies.

Just to be clear, because Republicans make this more tangled than a bowl of lo mein, the debt ceiling is about paying for spending that Congress has already authorized, and Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits Congress from challenging the legitimacy of that debt.

But Republicans love trying to get something by threatening to do nothing, so they found a takeout menu under a desk and went to work. I guess they figure giving him a menu will make it easier to blame President Obama for their plan to slash the social safety net. It’s like terrorists giving the hostage negotiator a choice of which hostage to shoot … then blaming the negotiator for the murder because “He chose the victim!”

As Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum writes:

The tea partiers have painted themselves into a corner. The economy is slowly recovering, and the deficit is falling, but they’ve promised ever more hostage taking anyway, and now they have to follow through. But their proposals combine arrogance and amateur-hour theatrics in a way that practically guarantees failure. They sound like a bunch of eight-year-olds who think they’ve come up with an oh-so-clever way to trap dad into raising their allowance or something. But Obama isn’t running for reelection anymore. All he has to do this time around is say no, and stick to it. If Republicans decide to flush the economy down the toilet in a fit of pique anyway, then maybe it really is platinum coin time.

And back in January, President Obama vowed he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling:

[Republicans] will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip.

I think President Obama will hold his position on this. I’d like to say House Republicans will open their fortune cookie, see “You will regret this,” and abandon their threat. But there are no I Ching manuals to predict House Republicans.

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