Up On a Tightrope
A lot of folks, on both sides of the political spectrum, have expressed some amount of surprise that House Republican leaders have come out so unequivocally and forcefully in support of President Obama’s plan to carry out a military strike against the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons on its own population.
I, myself, would like to go on record as not the least little bit surprised by that development. Let’s face it, it sucks to be a Republican in Obama’s second term. It’s one thing to keep a straight face for four years of birthers, conspiracy theories, socialism, creeping sharia and Agenda 21 if it’ll get you the cracker factory vote. But now, given the cyclical nature of government business, it’s time to act the fool all over again for very diminished returns.
For nine long months, Republicans have been biding their time, waiting for another chance to take a whack at the economy. That doesn’t mean they had a clue or anything approaching a consensus on how they would play it, nevertheless they were ready to rumble—nine whole days in September, to threaten a government shutdown. Then, round about the holidays, the BIG EVENT - debt limit, dundundun.
On August 1st, no one would have predicted that a punitive attack on Syria would zip to the top of the agenda. When Republicans went off to their home districts and summer vacations, they were all about defunding Obamacare, shutting down the government, defaulting on their debt and trying to forget their humiliating Farm Bill debacle.
They were counting on easing back in to the nine-days of legislative heavy-lifting scheduled for the month of September. To say that Republicans “had a plan” to address the upcoming fiscal business of funding the government and raising the debt limit is, perhaps, over-generous.
In a conference call with House Republicans last week, Boehner said they would push Obama on the debt limit, but not the continuing resolution to fund the government. Some weren’t pleased, The National Review’s Jonathan Strong reports, and the call turned “ugly.”
Then Jack Lew, Obama’s new Treasury Secretary, threw everyone a curve ball when he gave notice that the debt limit would be reached months before anyone expected, effectively collapsing appropriations to keep the government running and the need to raise the debt limit into one big ball of chaos, muddling any plans that had been undertaken to negotiate each separately.
House leadership, have said that they would not seek any spending or policy changes while approving new spending authorization—not that that means they won’t. Instead, despite Obama’s promise that he refuses to negotiate on the debt limit that’s exactly where Republicans had hung their hopes on exacting new spending cuts and reforms.
To that end, Paul Ryan Republican Grand Wizard of Budgetary Pain is said to be preparing a “menu” of options for Obama to choose from that link specific cuts with increases in the debt limit for specified periods of time. Problem is, Ryan’s “menu” is unlikely to have enough House Republican backing to be a credible offer.
Debates and votes on Syria are liable to seriously cut into the very small amount of time that the House has given itself to hash out these fiscal negotiations. Something tells me that Speaker Boehner would probably love to retract his “whale of a fight” over the debt limit speech that he delivered while stumping for a colleague in Idaho.
Boehner’s own words and actions make that a laughable statement. The Speaker has said, on no less than five occasions, that he will never countenance default on Congress’ debts and he famously punted, the last time around, in January, when House Republicans cleverly voted to “suspend” the debt ceiling for a few months. Technically, that move did not “raise” the debt limit . . . it removed a limit altogether.
I suspect that GOP Leadership jumped on the Syria resolution in an attempt to speed things up and save some calendar days for the domestic agenda. Although it’s a bitter pill to support anything Obama, their base will probably be more forgiving about foreign military action than it would be of an anticlimactic cave and/or timeout on the fiscal matters.
Myself? I tend to agree with Brian Beutler’s prediction about what will actually occur:
...Boehner introduces legislation that both increases (or extends) the debt limit and includes some goodies for conservatives that make the bill a non-starter with Senate Democrats and the President (maybe a year-long delay of the individual mandate — let your imaginations run wild); that bill fails on the floor; everyone panics; faced with no better option, Boehner breaks the Hastert rule [allowing it to pass with Democratic votes], puts a tidy, Senate-passed debt limit bill on the floor, and we all dress up as Speaker Pelosi for Halloween.
Like I said, earlier, it sucks to be a Republican, right now . . .