The Era of Republican Hostage-Taking Is Over
So word comes down this morning that John Boehner and company are going to present to the House a clean bill to increase the debt ceiling. No demands, no strings. Here's a description from the New York Times of how it went down between Monday night and Tuesday morning:
On Monday night, Mr. Boehner laid out a plan to link the debt ceiling increase to legislation that would have reversed a cut to veteran retirement benefits. But conservative Republicans opposed the plan, and Republican leaders worried that Democrats would not go along, holding firm to President Obama’s demand that no policy attachments come with a debt ceiling increase.
On Tuesday, the speaker gave up, a dramatic gesture for a leader who once declared the “Boehner Rule,” which holds that any debt ceiling increase should be attached to spending cuts of equal size. A House Republican who was in the room for the speaker’s announcement described the response as “stunned silence.”
The Times might also have mentioned here, in addition to the Boehner Rule, the Hastert Rule, that Republicans would never bring anything to the floor that doesn't have the support of a majority of Republicans. A clean debt bill is going to break the Hastert Rule because it would have to pass with all or virtually all Democrats and just enough Republicans to get it across the line.
Will 18 or so Republicans vote for a clean bill? “We’ll have to find [the votes],” Boehner told reporters. “I’ll be one.” Obviously, Boehner is going to be leaning hard on every single member he can who he thinks can get away with casting a "pro-Obama" vote and still survive a Tea Party challenge in his district. But of course the rage machinery is already cranking up. But the vote will happen today, so we'll know soon enough.
Assuming passage, it's a huge victory for Obama. Caving on the debt limit in 2011 was the political low point of his presidency. But now he's turned those tables. Looks like the bully pulpit still has some value, despite what the political scientists say.
And if it does pass, this whole, sorry hostage-taking episode in American politics is presumably over. It's a major admission of failure by Boehner and Eric Cantor, and of course yet another sign that they have very little control over their caucus.
On that point, while it's a win for Obama on the debt limit, it could lead to tougher skirmishes down the road. How many Republicans, after hearing Limbaugh and Fox talking heads and the rest slam them endlessly for caving here, are going to be in the mood to pass bipartisan immigration reform? Not many. But of course not many were anyway. Forget about the future for now. Obama needs his wins where he can get them, and this was a big one.