Paul Ryan's Pathetic Bluff on the Debt Limit

On Sunday, Paul Ryan went on Fox News to declare that he and his Republican buddies in Congress are going to "huddle" to figure out what it is they want out of next year's debt limit fight. They "don't want nothing."

That's cute, Paul. But the truth is that you will get nothing out of any fights you decide to wage next year over the debt limit. Paul Ryan's statement on Fox News Sunday wasn't so much a shot across the bow as it were an attempt to appease the right wing fringe groups that are up in arms because of the budget agreement he and Sen. Murray struck this past week.

Let's be clear about something: the president made clear a year ago that he would not engage in a political game where Republicans try to extract ransom for doing their job and paying the bills that Congress already racked up (aka raising the debt limit). And so far, the GOP has tried to fight it twice since the president's drawing of line in the sand, and been embarrassed both times. Let's revisit:

Republicans tried to pull the same stunt back in January, and none other than Newt Gingrich called it a bad idea. Here on TPV we discussed why their threat didn't have any teeth back then. We turned out to be right. Three days after the president's second inauguration, House Republicans caved and passed an extension (more accurately, a pause) of the debt limit.

They wanted to pause it merely until May, so that they would have time to fight over it again, but the Obama recovery rudely intruded and increased tax revenues, coupled with extraordinary methods deployed by the Treasury extended the deadline for the federal government to run out of money all the way into mid-October, roughly the same time government funding would run out.

Then, the Republicans did the unthinkably dumb thing and shut down the government. They got beaten up in public opinion badly for it, and passed not only a fairly clean continuing resolution that lead to the budget agreement last week, but also a suspension of the debt limit extending into February 7. As I noted then, the Republican attempts to try to prevent the Treasury Department to once again take extraordinary measures to extend the deadline failed.

That failure is now resulting into something of a repeat of this year's extension of the deadline on when the government becomes unable to pay its bills. There are different estimates as to exactly when that will happen, with the Congressional Budget Office indicating that with increased tax revenues early next year, that debt could get pushed back to as late as May or even June. Falling unemployment and the growing economy under President Obama will no doubt add to that revenue.

The later the fight gets pushed into the election year, the worse it is for Republicans. If Republicans want a big fight over the debt limit six months from the election to remind voters exactly why they don't deserve any political power, every single person wishing for Democratic success in next year's election should adopt a bring-it-on attitude.

President Obama knows this. Democrats know this. But more importantly, Paul Ryan knows this. But Paul Ryan is also in a box, as is the rest of his party. The closer the debt limit deadline gets to the summer, the more pressure will mount from their Tea Party base, who could decide heated Repubican primaries, to wage just such a battle, as damaging as it may be to the party in November. The wingbat base will already be peeved that Ryan made a deal with Murray on the budget; caving on the debt limit would no doubt cause a firestorm. But Ryan also has two very unpalatable choices: give up now and suffer the wrath of the base, or wage a losing battle and give up anyway much closer to the election, making the party toxic in November.

So Ryan has embarked on what he thinks is a third way: make unspecified threats on the debt limit now, make the base feel like he's going to fight, and hopefully find a way to quietly cave without generating a big response. Whether Ryan's third way - making fools out of a rather foolish right wing base - will succeed is anyone's guess, but I'm of course hoping it fails spectacularly.

With a tee and hee, I shall conclude this piece.