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“Another ‘Price’ To Pay”: New Budget Committee Chief; Time For A New Debt-Ceiling Standoff

Almost immediately after the 2014 elections, the conventional wisdom among much of the Beltway media was that power would change Republicans for the better. By taking control of both chambers of Congress, the argument went, GOP lawmakers would have no choice but to become a responsible governing party. They would prove, at long last, that they’re capable of acting like grown-ups.

Just one month later, there’s already ample evidence that those assumptions about Republican maturity were completely wrong.

Republican Tom Price, the incoming House Budget Committee chairman, said his party could demand steep spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling next year, the most provocative comments by a senior GOP member to date on how negotiations could play out.

The Georgia congressman, during an hour-long briefing with reporters Friday, said the expected mid-2015 debate over whether to raise or suspend the debt ceiling offered Republicans an opportunity to make a sizable imprint on government policy.

The far-right Georgian added that he wants to see Republicans bring back the so-called “Boehner rule” – an arbitrary policy that demands a dollar in cuts for every dollar increase in the debt limit – that even Republicans recognized as ridiculous a couple of years ago.

“I prefer to think about it as opportunities and pinch points,” Price said, apparently using “pinch points” as a euphemism for “causing deliberate national harm.”

It’s worth emphasizing that Price isn’t some random, fringe figure, shouting from the sidelines – the Georgia Republican next month will fill Paul Ryan’s shoes as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

In other words, it matters that Price envisions a strategy in which Republicans threaten to hurt Americans on purpose unless Democrats meet the GOP’s demands.

That said, Price would be wise to start lowering expectations – his intention to create a deliberate crisis will almost certainly fail.

The gist of the plan is effectively identical to the scheme hated by House Republicans in 2011. Next year, the Treasury Department will alert Congress to the fact that it’s time to borrow the funds necessary to pay for the things Congress has already bought. As Price sees it, the GOP-led Congress will tell the Obama administration, “We’ll cooperate, but only if you slash public investments. If not, we’ll default on our debts, crash the economy, and destroy the full faith and credit of the United States.”

Why Price or anyone else would want to slash public investments right now – hurting the economy, just as the recovery gains steam – is a bit of a mystery.

Regardless, the problem with this ridiculously dangerous and politically violent scheme is that President Obama has already said he won’t play the GOP’s game. Indeed, earlier this year, Republican leaders suggested they would once again hold the debt ceiling hostage, but the White House called their bluff and refused to pay any ransom.

Soon after, Republicans backed down, and a new precedent was set.

Hostage crises only work when there’s a credible threat. In this case, Democrats have to actually believe that Republicans would do deliberate harm to the country unless Dems paid a ransom. But once Obama realized that GOP leaders had no intention of crashing the economy on purpose, the fear disappeared and the incentive to hold the nation hostage again vanished with it.

On Friday, Tom Price said in effect, “Maybe we can go back to the way things were in 2011?” And the polite response from the Oval Office and sensible adults everywhere will be, simply, “No.”

Let’s not forget that incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently explained, “There will be no government shutdown or default on the national debt.” And with those simple words, it became quite obvious that attempts to exploit the debt ceiling won’t work because Republicans won’t follow through on their threats to harm the hostage.

Someone probably ought to explain all of this to the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 15, 2014

December 16, 2014 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, House Republicans, Tom Price | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hollowness Of GOP Arguments”: Where Was Republicans’ Concern for “Political Norms” When They Took The Debt Ceiling Hostage?

Else where on this site, Eric Posner argues that conservatives should celebrate President Obama’s immigration actions because they “may modify political norms that control what the president can do.” The idea, which will be familiar to everyone following the contretemps surrounding Obama’s immigration policy, is that Republicans will eventually be able to marshall the same powers Obama is asserting to more conservative ends.

But near the end of the article, Posner modifies his argument by observing that Obama didn’t actually create any new norms last week at all. Rather, he may have revived a long-dormant conservative inclination to “undermine the regulatory system itself,” from within the executive branch, by pushing the envelope of executive power. We’ve already been down this road beforeonly before, Republicans were at the wheel.

This is a crucial insight. You can’t understanding the shadowboxing over Obama’s immigration moves if you don’t recognize it as shadowboxing. To nearly a person, the conservatives complaining about the procedural implications of Obama’s actions are expressing substantive or political disapproval through other channels. The conservatives tenting their fingers, anticipating all the discretion a Republican president will use, would likewise have found reasons to support those acts of discretion whether Obama had acted unilaterally on immigration or not.

Two years ago, unilateral suspension of Obamacare requirements sat high on Mitt Romney’s 2012 agenda and Republicans loved it. They never considered it a threat to the right-size of the legislative branch, or worried that Mitt Romney was promising to exercise imperial powers.

Romney didn’t win, and thus his plan to dismantle Obamacare from within the executive branch never came to pass. But we don’t need to refer back to hypotheticals to expose the hollowness of precedential arguments like these. Three years ago, Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum identified several real instances in which Republicans ”figured out that old traditions are just that: traditions. There’s no law that says you can’t change them.”

Most of the examples are pretty arcane, and many evince a party committed to purpose, willing to use the rules to their advantage to win elections and shape policy, rather than a party contemptuous of democratic processes.

But the big glaring exception in all this, and the one that really underscores the argument that an abiding concern for traditions doesn’t really drive conservative opposition to Obama’s deportation relief, is the weaponization of the debt limit.

There, the precedent, and the danger to the constitutional order, was actually quite clear. Republicans in 2011 (and again, to less effect, in 2013) attempted to leverage their control over half of the legislature, to impose their substantive preferences on a Democratic president and the majority party in the Senate by using the threat economic calamity as a bargaining chip. To borrow from the right today, we had a situation in which the speaker of the House tried to usurp the Senate’s agenda-setting power and the president’s plenary power to determine which laws to sign and which to veto, by laying out an unprecedented choice between a right-wing vision without popular support, and default on the national debt.

The gambit paid off exquisitely in 2011 with the signing of the Budget Control Act, which brought us the indiscriminate spending controls of sequestration.

I don’t think there’s any way you can argue that Obama would’ve signed the BCA if you take the debt limit hostage-taking out of the equation. Boehner used the lawful powers at his disposal to settle a big fight over federal spending by fiatremember the Boehner Rule?except that since the legislature doesn’t enforce laws, the only way he could accomplish this was to threaten immense damage to the national and global economies as the price of non-compliance.

And it worked! It worked so well that he tried it again after Republicans lost the 2012 elections, by which point Obama had learned that Boehner’s leverage was actually illusory.

I think the Budget Control Act is a terrible law, and I think the precedent Boehner wanted to set would’ve been disastrous if it had taken hold. Fortunately, our political system proved resilient enough to prevent Republicans from turning this kind of brinksmanship into a matter of routine, and for that reason we don’t need to relitigate the normative questions Boehner raised over two-plus years of debt limit brinksmanship.

But if you dip into the archives at National Reviewwhere we can now read about Obama’s similarity to Latin American military dictatorsor into Ross Douthat’s old New York Times columns, which today center on the question of whether Obama is more like Caesar or a tin-pot caudilloyou’ll find that the right was much, much more concerned about whether Republicans were making wise tactical moves in debt limit negotiations, or whether conservatives would pocket satisfactory substantive concessions, in what was essentially a legislative mugging, than in questions of precedent.

Separation of powers questions almost never creeped in. Because conservatives were basically happy with what Republicans were setting out to accomplish.


By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, November 24, 2014

November 25, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“John Boehner’s Sunshine Band”: A Cartoon Festival Of Illusions That Would Embarrass Disney’s Brilliant Fantasists

From now on, it’s the Zip-a-dee-doo-dah House.

The political world stopped for a moment when Speaker John Boehner broke into the jaunty old Disney tune — “My, oh my, what a wonderful day” — after a news conference in which he threw in the towel on the debt ceiling fight. He found himself trapped between the immovable object of Democrats determined that they’d never again let Republicans take the nation’s credit hostage and the irresistible force of a dysfunctional, crisis-addicted GOP majority of which he is the putative leader. Boehner decided to skip away in song.

Feb. 11, 2014, was , in fact, a wonderful day. It marked the end of a dismal experiment that saw the right wing of the conservative movement do all it could to make the United States look like a country incapable of governing itself rationally. We were so caught up in our own nasty politics that we forgot that we’re supposed to be a model for how democracy should work. There will be other episodes of foolishness, but the debt-ceiling bomb finally has been defused.

Moreover, there were lessons here that should be applied from now on. The first is that refusing to negotiate over matters that should not be subject to negotiation is the sensible thing to do. President Obama learned this the hard way after the debilitating budget battle of 2011.

It’s true that both parties have played political games around the debt ceiling. But until our recent tea party turn, politicians kept these symbolic skirmishes within safe limits. The 28 House Republicans who faced reality by voting to move on for another year sent a signal that they want to return to those prudent habits.

But this means that 199 Republicans voted to go over the cliff. Or, to be more precise, many pretended they were willing to take that leap to appease big conservative funders and organizations, knowing that a minority of their GOP colleagues and the Democrats would bail them out. These profiles in convenience included Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the Budget Committee, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who chairs the House Republican Conference.

This tells us something important: The House Republican majority now governs largely through gestures and is driven almost entirely by internal party fractiousness and narrow political imperatives. When Boehner tried to tie the debt ceiling vote to a popular proposal to restore modest cuts to military pensions, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) complained that he could not vote to raise the debt limit but also didn’t want to vote against the pension restoration.

It’s a perfect parable: Cotton, an Army veteran who is trying to unseat Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat, this fall, felt a need to placate pro-spending and anti-spending interest groups at the same time and didn’t want Boehner to call his bluff. No wonder the speaker gave up on mollifying his caucus and, bless him, offered his ironic melody about all the sunshine coming his way.

Something else happened on Tuesday: Fully 193 of the 195 Democrats voting were prepared to shoulder the burden of hiking the debt ceiling. This vote, like many before it, proved that there is a moderate governing majority in the House. It could work its will again and again if only Boehner were willing to put bills on the floor and give practical-minded Republicans a chance join with Democrats to enact them.

This proposition deserves a test on immigration reform. Supporters should be thinking about a discharge petition to force Boehner’s hand — or maybe even to allow him to do what he’s said privately he’d like to do. If a majority of House members signed it, there could be a successful vote for the immigration bill the Senate already passed.

The largest lesson is to those who make a living bemoaning Washington gridlock and demanding a return to old-fashioned, bipartisan, good-faith negotiations.

That would be very nice if we were dealing with the GOP of yesteryear. We’re not. The debt-ceiling vote confirms what has long been obvious: Getting to yes on anything begins with an acknowledgment of how many members of Boehner’s caucus are ready to blow up our governing process and how many others feign a desire to do so to avoid political pain from their right.

The Zip-a-dee-doo-dah House has become a cartoon festival of illusions that would embarrass Disney’s brilliant fantasists. Exposing the fantasies is the first step toward sunshine.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 12, 2014

February 16, 2014 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Voting For Default”: Paul Ryan’s Embarrassing Debt Ceiling Vote

After Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) decided to put a clean debt ceiling bill up for a vote yesterday evening, he had a new challenge: finding enough Republican votes to go along with the Democrats to pass it.

Although Boehner doesn’t normally vote, he did this time. He then asked others in the Republican leadership to follow his lead.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) both did so, along with lead deputy whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.).

He hoped some of his committee chairmen would step up as well. Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) all gave their support.

One name absent from that list: Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).

Ryan’s vote against the debt ceiling bill was particularly disappointing.

In recent months, Ryan has transitioned from a stubborn ideologue to a pragmatic leader, most notably in his willingness to broker a budget deal that relaxed sequestration. Just yesterday, he criticized the vast majority in the Congress for looking to undo the changes to military pensions that were included in that budget agreement. (A bill undoing the cuts passed 326-90 in the House.) Despite facing numerous bipartisan opposition, Ryan has stuck by those cuts.

He also undoubtedly understands how catastrophic it would be for the United States to default. He understood that leadership was concerned about the bill passing and were looking for leaders in the House to vote for it.

In addition, raising the debt ceiling authorizes the spending that he personally negotiated in the Murray-Ryan budget. Ryan knows this isn’t new spending. It’s not a blank check. This just allows us to actually pay our bills.

For Ryan, this was likely all about politics. He may still have his eye on a 2016 presidential run (though I don’t think he does) and if not, he certainly will consider it in the future. If the deciding vote came down to him, I have no doubt that he would have voted in the affirmative. Once he realized he didn’t need to support the bill, he took the easy way out and opposed it.

This should be embarrassing for Ryan. For someone who prides himself on being serious, he voted for a possible U.S. default instead of authorizing paying for spending that he personally negotiated. Sometimes, leaders need to take tough votes for the sake of their caucus and the country. Both the Republican Party and the United States needed yesterday’s bill to pass. That’s why Boehner, McCarthy and the 26 other Republicans voted for it. They knew it wouldn’t play well with their constituents, but they did it anyway.

Ryan should have been a part of that group.


By: Danny Vinik, Business Insider, February 13, 2014

February 14, 2014 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Paul Ryan | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Always Pick Door Number 2”: The Lessons Of John Boehner’s Latest Failure

A last-ditch plan by House Republicans to extract concessions in exchange for hiking the nation’s borrowing limit fell apart Tuesday morning, with conservative holdouts leaving the party short of the necessary votes.

That the GOP caved isn’t as surprising as the speed with which it did, just a few minutes into a morning conference meeting. All along, it was clear Republicans had no leverage with their debt-ceiling threats; they’d caved before, and public opinion was firmly against more debt limit extortion.

Still, the GOP’s latest debt ceiling defeat is yet another sign of how difficult it has become for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to move anything through his divided caucus. And Boehner’s inability to control his party is a real liability, as it’s given Democrats even less reason to concede ground in future negotiations — not only on the debt ceiling, but on other major issues as well.

Even after Republicans self immolated during last year’s debt ceiling negotiations by offering a fantastical hostage list, the party again wanted to extract some kind of concessions this time. But though the ask list was smaller, the party again couldn’t agree on a single plan, and a handful of proposals quickly collapsed. In a weird Bizarro World twist, the last idea — to restore pension benefits to some veterans — would have had Republicans either voting to raise spending, or voting against the military.

In the end, the potential damage to the GOP was so great that party leaders knew they had two options on the debt ceiling: Stand firm and destroy the party’s approval rating (again), or ask Democrats for help. Boehner gave the finger to the Tea Party and picked Door Number 2.

So now, Democrats and President Obama, who insisted throughout the ordeal that they would only support a clean debt ceiling vote, have watched the GOP cave once again. When Republicans return with more debt ceiling demands in the future, Democrats will surely be emboldened to shrug them off and say “nope” again, confident the demands are merely more empty threats.

But will Boehner keep bucking the right wing? Immigration offers a salient test case, with Boehner seemingly interested in passing some reforms, and conservative critics blasting any action as “amnesty.”

The fallout for Republicans from spiking immigration this year wouldn’t be as visceral as the damage from, say, the government shutdown. But it would give Democrats a huge talking point — “Republicans are anti-immigration” — and further impinge on the party’s ability to court minority voters.

In short, Boehner is, as he has been for some time, caught between his need to appease the right and his need to do his job. The latest debt ceiling brouhaha has only exposed how tricky that balancing act is, and shown Democrats that, with a little pressure, they can force him to dump the right and seek out their help.


By: Jon Terbush, The Week, February 11, 2014

February 12, 2014 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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