Part of the reason I have been relatively nonchalant on the Republican dog-and-pony show and threats to want to extract concessions from the president in order to raise the debt ceiling is that I have been convinced for some time that for Republicans, that dog simply won't hunt. This has become a sad, broken, predictable record now: the debt ceiling gets close, Republicans swoon over themselves with promises to extract concessions from Democrats and the president just to pay America's bills that Congress has already authorized, then let it be raised without those concessions anyway. And then in a few month's time, they repeat and promise it'll be different this time, and then back off again.
That is what is happening right now. Tomorrow, the Congress-enacted suspension of the borrowing limit expires, and the Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says that extraordinary measures to keep the government from running out of money will last only until the end of this month. After toying once again with demanding the suspension of the Affordable Care Act and/or approving the Keystone XL pipeline, the House Republican leadership is inching ever closer to the white flag.
Lacking support, top Republicans dropped efforts to link a debt-ceiling boost to a measure revoking an Obamacare insurance provision, said two party leadership aides who sought anonymity yesterday to discuss private talks. A proposal to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline also was abandoned even though it’s popular among Republicans, the aides said.Then, Boehner said the magic words: “We need Democratic support in order to pass it.” Though technically Boehner was speaking about some sort of a Republican plan that offers the GOP concessions, the very admission for the need of Democratic support may as well be equivalent to waving that white flag. This is not an issue Democrats in Congress will compromise with the Republicans on, and least of all the president. There is no chance that Boehner will get support from the Democrats in Congress or the president in the Republican attempt to take hostages over the debt ceiling, and he knows that. The open plea for Democratic help, therefore, is in truth surrender.
“We’re still looking for the pieces to this puzzle,” House Speaker John Boehner said today, joking that he’d have trouble finding enough Republican votes for a debt ceiling increase even if sainthood for Mother Teresa were attached.
Boehner knows the math as well as anyone: There aren't enough Republican votes on their own in the House to raise the debt ceiling, period, and he's just told us that. There are also no Democratic support for conditioning the debt ceiling on any policy concession. But there are enough votes in the House - by way of combining nearly all the Democrats and a handful of Republicans - to do a clean increase in the debt ceiling. That is the only help he will get from Democrats, and that's the help he's now crying out for.
For more than a year now, the president has drawn a bright line on the principle that fringe political movement does not get to extract concessions from the greatest nation on earth in order for Congress to simply pay the bills it racked up. The president has drawn the bright line and dared the Republicans to cross it. And every single time since then that the debt ceiling has come up, Republicans have gone close to it, and ultimately surrendered.
And that is where the GOP is headed this time. They have gotten a taste of the public backlash from a government shutdown in October, and the party has no appetite for repeating it several fold by defaulting the United States and causing a real economic calamity - especially in an election year. Because despite convincing their base that the debt ceiling can be used to force the views of a fringe minority on the policies of an entire nation, Boehner and the Republican leadership know better.