The ransom note makes structural, procedural demands

THE RANSOM NOTE MAKES STRUCTURAL, PROCEDURAL DEMANDS…. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) said the other day he’s prepared to reject raising the debt ceiling unless it’s tied to “serious spending reforms.”

It’s unclear if Brown knows what the debt ceiling is, or what his desired “reforms” might include. It’s also unclear why a so-called moderate would threaten to destroy the economy as part of a hostage strategy.

But the simple senator from Massachusetts nevertheless raised a point worth watching as the debate proceeds. As we move closer to a dangerous standoff over the debt limit, Republicans aren’t just talking about spending cuts. In some ways, this would be much easier if they were.

Rather, as the ransom note starts to get filled in with specifics, we’re talking about structural and procedural changes. Republicans, in other words, will shoot the hostage (the economy) unless Democrats agree to make it all but impossible to make investments, not just now, but also in the future.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the other day that he can go along with a Gang of Six plan if policymakers “develop a way to make sure you can’t cheat on the caps, on both mandatory and discretionary spending.” The same morning, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) said he’d risk a global catastrophe without “something structural on this spending side.”

Yesterday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), whose comments on this issue in recent weeks have bordered on idiotic, went even further, declaring that Republicans “will not grant their request for a debt limit increase” unless the party’s structural demands are met, even if that means deliberately destroying the economy.

The Virginia Republican’s missive is a clear escalation in the long-running Washington spending war, with no less than the full faith and credit of the United States hanging in the balance.

In the most recent budget battle — over a six-month spending bill — Republican leaders carefully avoided threatening to shut down the government. Now, Cantor says he’s ready to plunge the nation into default if the GOP’s demands are not met. People close to Cantor say that he hopes to make clear that small concessions from Democrats, including President Barack Obama, will not be enough to deliver the GOP on a debt increase.

What might structural changes look like? Republicans are floating a variety of radical ideas, including “statutory spending caps, a balanced budget amendment and a two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases and debt limit increases.”

All of these ideas are hopelessly insane. The caps represents one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard; a balanced budget amendment is the dumbest proposed constitutional change since Prohibition; and requiring supermajorities is so breathtakingly irresponsible, it’s unsettling that Republicans aren’t kidding.

The point, though, is that Republicans aren’t just looking for a few cuts. The debate about whether to cut $33 billion or $39 billion is clearly over. GOP officials are now looking at doing long-term damage to the political and budget process, making changes that would tie policymakers’ hands, be hard to undo, and make it impossible for the nation to respond to future challenges.

And if they don’t get at least some of these changes, Republicans will do irreparable harm.

Remember, Democratic leaders, GOP leaders, the Federal Reserve, Treasury officials, economists of all stripes, Wall Street, and Big Business lobbying powerhouses all say the same thing: Congress has to raise the debt ceiling, very soon, or we’ll all face dire consequences.

As of yesterday, Eric Cantor, in effect, declared, “I don’t care.”

Just a couple of years after Democrats helped drag the economy out of the ditch the GOP drove into, the new House GOP majority is threatening to drag us right back down. This time, they’re willing to do so on purpose.