Today House Republicans will roll out their plan for a six-week debt ceiling hike, and the general tone in Washington is that the prospects for a “deal” have brightened. But if you dig deeper into this emerging deal, it becomes obvious the core disagreement driving this whole dispute remains entirely unresolved — and that Republicans remain fully committed to the posture that caused this crisis in the first place.
The reporting today suggests Republicans will continue to insist Dems enter into formal talks on spending and debt as a precondition to lifting the debt limit. On the surface, that seems like standard Washington posturing. Republicans want to be able to say they won something — we forced Democrats to come to the table to deal! — in exchange for a debt limit hike, which they are defining (falsely) as a big concession. But Republicans are privately confiding that a lot more is at stake than merely “saving face.” Here’s howthey describe the situation to David Drucker:
For House Republicans, the fight over the debt ceiling isn’t just about fiscal reform. The battle that spawned a government shutdown is also very much about preserving the GOP majority’s relevance in future policy debates.
At issue isn’t whether House Republicans should accept a bad deal to raise the federal borrowing limit and ensure the U.S. does not default on its $16.7 trillion debt. Republicans are concerned that the refusal of President Obama and Senate Democrats to negotiate those issues with Republicans would establish a precedent making it impossible to haggle over future debt limit increases or to use them as leverage in other policy negotiations.
That has only reaffirmed to House Republican leaders — who wanted to avoid a government shutdown — that they have no choice but to stand their ground on the debt ceiling. Surrounded by a hostile White House and Senate, and with few legislative avenues beyond borrowing and spending bills to impose their agenda, Republicans said capitulating to Obama would cede to Democrats the only institutional authority Republicans possess.
For Republicans, simply agreeing to raise the debt limit, without getting anything in return, represents a surrender of their ability to use future debt limit deadlines as leverage in policy disputes. This gets at precisely the crux of the disagreement between the two parties.
Democrats believe standard policy negotiations should proceed outside a context in which the threat of harm to the country — whether through default or a continued government shutdown — gives one side unilateral leverage. Republicans want to retain that leverage; indeed, they see it as crucial to the House’s “institutional authority,” at least while they are in control of it. But even if you accept this definition of the House’s “institutional authority,” Democrats believe that what’s at stake here is governing norms, and that if they aren’t restored, this cycle will repeat itself, making future default and widespread economic destruction all but assured.
Republicans will argue they are removing the threat of default from the discussions, at least temporarily. But they continue to insist the government remain shut while these talks proceed, damaging the economy, and Politico’s report on the GOP proposal gets at the heart of the matter: “There’s no guarantee Republicans would stop using the debt limit as leverage in the future and Obama could find himself in the same position once the temporary extension expires.”
A lot of this turns on the fudgability (if that’s a word) of what constitutes Dems “agreeing to talks.” Surely there are ways Dems might agree on some kind of resolutionto enter into talks later — a statement of intent — that would not constitute giving Republicans anything in exchange for lifting default threat conditions. In this outcome, Republicans would be essentially raising the debt limit cleanly while calling it a partial victory by claiming they forced Dems to the table.
But Dems need to be very cognizant of the fact that Republicans are fully intent on holding on to the debt ceiling as leverage to extort concessions in the future. If they agree to anything that actually cedes something real in exchange for a debt limit hike — such as real talks under threat conditions — they will have merely postponed the inevitable need to win the larger argument that has paralyzed the system.
* ARE REPUBLICANS ALSO SET TO AGREE TO REOPEN GOVERNMENT?Politico suggests as much:
House Republicans told Obama at the White House that they could reopen the federal government by early next week if the president and Senate Democrats agree to their debt-ceiling proposal. After the debt ceiling is lifted, a House GOP aide said they would seek some additional concessions in a government funding bill.
I’m skeptical that House Republicans are anywhere near supporting a “clean CR.” This looks like more of the same — demanding concessions in exchange for both lifting the debt ceiling and reopening the government. We need to see their proposal, of course.