This is what passes for great news in Washington: House Republicans are so internally dysfunctional that they can’t even agree on whether or how to sabotage Uncle Sam’s ability to pay his bills.
And this is essentially what House Republicans are saying: “If Congress doesn’t speedily raise the debt ceiling, the nation will suffer its first-ever default and the domestic economy will be damaged. We of course would love to hold hostage the full faith and credit of the United States, we would love to demand a big ransom from Obama in exchange for raising the ceiling. Same game we’ve tried before. Problem is, we’re so screwed up that we can’t figure out what to do. Looks like we’re just gonna have to act in the national interest and raise the ceiling. Oh well.”
Actually, this is a rare outbreak of sanity. After laboring in vain to find ransom terms that would unite the Republican rank and file – how about holding the debt ceiling hostage unless Obama says yes to the Keystone pipeline? or holding it hostage unless Obama agrees to zap one particular provision of Obamacare? – they have slowly come to understand that yet another act of sabotage would expose them to yet another round of contemptuous public ridicule. Not a good idea, with midterm elections looming.
In fact, the public is already primed to slam the Republicans, if they dare revert to form and obstruct anew. According to the latest CNN-ORC poll, 54 percent of Americans would blame the GOP if a debt ceiling deal isn’t reached, with just 29 percent blaming the president. Four months ago, Republicans took the biggest hit for their government shutdown – 52 percent of Americans blamed them, 34 percent blamed the president – and now the gap is even wider.
The new numbers appear to have made an impression. When House Republicans basically signal that Uncle Sam will be allowed to keep paying his bills, this time without a ginned-up crisis, that counts as a win for basic governance. Break out the champagne!
A House tea party leader, Paul Labrador, says, “I don’t us to just claim we are fighting for something and then capitulate at the end. I’m just being realistic….We’re not willing to put the full faith and credit of the United States in jeopardy.” (Pinch me, I must be dreaming.)
Speaker Boehner says, “Listen, we do not want to default on our debt, and we’re not going to default on our debt.” His peeps just can’t seem to get enthused about any particular sabotage strategy: “You know, Mother Teresa is a saint now, but if Congress wanted to make her a saint, and attach that to the debt ceiling, we probably couldn’t get 218 votes for it.”
A Boehner ally, Patrick Tiberi, says, “Right now, Jesus himself couldn’t be the speaker and get 218 Republicans behind something….At the end of the day, we still have to govern.”
So not even Jesus or Mother Teresa could help the GOP coalesce around a ransom demand…for this crew, that’s a sign of progress. Perhaps they’re finally ready to take the traditional route. After all, Republicans on Capitol Hill raised the nation’s borrowing authority with minimum fuss seven times under George W. Bush and 18 times under Ronald Reagan – even though both presidents were spreading red ink on the budget ledger. To quote Michele Bachmann, of all people, “Most of us don’t think it’s the time to fight.”
Indeed, tea-party congressman Justin Amish says it’s time to “avoid the theater and just move on.” Funny he should say that. He’s being primaried this year by a business-backed Republican. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hated the government shutdown, doesn’t believe in holding the debt ceiling hostage, and is spending $50 million this year in a bid to rid the House of saboteurs. This heat from the business community is one reason why House Republicans suddenly sound so benign.
“Maybe we ought to defund Obamacare,” says congressman Mike Simpson, referring to the autumn government shutdown. “That worked so well for us. I’m just kidding.”
Hey, black humor from a disarmed saboteur! That guy ain’t Louis C.K., but the bullish prospects for a crisis-free winter surely prompts us to smile.
Elsewhere, however, it’s the same old game. House Republicans basically signaled yesterday that they won’t do squat this year on immigration reform (because they don’t want to expose their internal divisions), and Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block jobless benefits for the 1.7 million long-term unemployed (even though 59 percent of the senators wanted to help).
So basically the GOPers will continue to be who they are. In the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “Character is destiny.”
This announcement is aimed at Beatles fans who also use Twitter (how’s that for narrowcasting?):
Sunday night marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ American debut on Ed Sullivan. During that same hour – eight to nine p.m. EST – I’ll be live-tweeting the whole show, including the cheesy acts and commercials. I can do this because I own the DVD.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1