Monday, January 14, 2013

"We Are Not a Deadbeat Nation."

As we've discussed before, the "Fiscal Cliff" deal put Republicans into a real bind. Do they make it up to their "TEA" powered base by throwing America into default and triggering a global financial panic unseen since 1929? Or do they finally ignore the teabaggers, engage in some responsible governing for a change, and allow President Obama to carry out the spending that they had already passed?

President Obama now has Congressional Republicans cornered. Here's what he said in his press conference today.

"We are not a deadbeat nation," Obama said at a White House press conference.

"There are no magic tricks here, there are no loopholes," he said, referring to talk about minting a $1 trillion platinum coin or using the Fourteenth Amendment to bypass Congress and unilaterally raise the debt ceiling. "There are no easy outs."

Many Republicans have likely been secretly wishing for Obama to direct the Treasury to mint that trillion dollar coin or evoke the 14th Amendment to unilaterally wipe away the debt ceiling. After all, they'd rather not be confronted with the real world decision on whether to take care of the debt ceiling as they're legally obligated to do. But now, Republicans' platinum escape hatch is gone.

The protestations notwithstanding, the coin proposal actually looked pretty good from a Republican perspective. They don't want a default, but they don't want to raise the debt ceiling. If Obama minted the coin --or more accurately, if he ordered Treasury to mint the coin -- the GOP would get everything it wants: a resolution to the crisis, a satisfactory conclusion without so much as a floor vote, and an off-the-wall scheme they'd use to criticize the White House as reckless and irresponsible for a long while.

Over the weekend, with the administration scuttling the coin idea altogether, Republicans suddenly find themselves right back where they were -- with all the pressure squarely on their shoulders. They started the debt-ceiling crisis, and now it's on them to resolve it, one way or the other. If GOP policymakers want to avoid a global economic catastrophe of their own making, they'll have to come to their senses before it's too late.

Like it or not, there is no escape hatch; there is no pressure valve; there is no gimmick that can save the day at the last minute. Republicans can either do the right thing or the wrong thing. They can either hurt Americans or come to their senses. There are plenty of remaining questions -- does the GOP want a default; do they understand the severe consequences of their actions -- but asking what Obama will do to prevent the Republican crisis is no longer one of them.

Now that Obama has squarely put the onus on Congress to do its job, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Scared) is frightened over the possibility of pushing through a debt resolution reliant upon a broad bipartisan coalition, just as the "Fiscal Cliff" deal was. This may very well further intensify teabaggers' calls for a House G-O-TEA rebellion against Boehner. But if he allows the country to default on our debt, then he will probably soon be swept out of office anyway.

So what's he to do? There have been rumors lately that Boehner will push a debt ceiling increase... But one tied to cuts to Social Security & Medicare, as well as other parts of the social safety net. He may be hoping this can deflect blame onto Democrats for not resolving the debt dispute (since Democrats obviously won't want to be saddled with cuts to the social safety net).

However, this may be another much hoped for escape hatch that's closing for House Republicans.

But Dems have a response: Senate Democrats can simply amend such a bill, turning it into a clean debt ceiling hike. “They could simply strip out the spending cuts and increase the debt limit, and kick it back to the House,” Congressional expert Norm Ornstein told me. This would renew pressure on House Republicans to allow a vote on passing the debt ceiling hike on its own.

You might expect that if Senate Dems did this, Senate Republicans would filibuster it. But Ornstein, for one, says it’s quite possible they wouldn’t. Remember, Senate Republicans have been more reluctant than House Republicans to use the debt limit as leverage. You could see a situation similar to the fiscal cliff fight, in which Mitch McConnell, unlike the House, recognized political reality and entered into genuine negotiations with the White House. “There’s a strong possibility that Senate Republicans would not filibuster this and that would put the onus back on the House,” Ornstein says. “McConnell’s statements not withstanding, I don’t think Senate Republicans are all that eager to use the debt limit as a hostage this time.”

It’s true that a single Senate conservative could filibuster the bill. But it’s possible Dems could get 60 votes to overcome that. If the debt ceiling deadline looms, and if the business community bears down hard, demanding the GOP avert the destruction of the economy, you could see moderate Republicans, such as Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Bob Corker, support a hike. “You could imagine even people like Tom Coburn saying, `This is not the way to go,’ particularly if McConnell doesn’t stage a party-wide filibuster,” Ornstein says.

And John Boehner will be back to Square One: choosing whether to continue fueling teabaggers' wet dreams of a debt default, or succumb to reality as even Wall Street demands a debt resolution. This is what already happened with the "Fiscal Cliff" fight. And it may yet happen again.

Especially since Congress now has a record low 7% approval rating (and 81% disapproval [!!!!!], according to PPP), Republicans are overwhelmingly blamed for the dysfunction in DC, and President Obama is far better trusted to handle the economy, both Boehner & McConnell must realize that the President and Harry Reid (again) have the upper hand here. Again, do Congressional Republicans want to be blamed for deliberately creating a Second Great Depression? Or will they (again) buckle to pressure to simply take care of the debt ceiling and have the President spend what Congress had already budgeted?

At this point, my money is on the latter.

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