Boehner’s hostage strategy becomes even more reckless

BOEHNER’S HOSTAGE STRATEGY BECOMES EVEN MORE RECKLESS…. It’s important to appreciate the evolution of House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) rhetoric when it comes to raising the debt ceiling. This matters because, as we get closer to a crisis of Republicans’ own making, Boehner is become more reckless and irresponsible, not less.

Here’s Boehner in November 2010:

“I’ve made it pretty clear to [my caucus] that as we get into next year, it’s pretty clear that Congress is going to have to deal with [the debt limit]. We’re going to have to deal with it as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part.”

And here’s Boehner in December 2010:

“We’ll have to find a way to help educate members and help people understand the serious problem that would exist if we didn’t do it.”

And here’s Boehner in January 2011:

“[A debt-ceiling default] would be a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy. I don’t think it’s a question that’s even on the table.”

The Speaker, perhaps too weak to explain reality to the caucus he ostensibly leads, has given up on this sensible rhetoric altogether. A question that wasn’t even on the table a few months ago is now the basis for threats unseen in modern American history.

Boehner told Politico yesterday, “If the president doesn’t get serious about the need to address our fiscal nightmare, yeah, there’s a chance it [the debt limit vote] could not happen.”

It’s hard to overstate how truly insane this is. Boehner wants the White House to address a “fiscal nightmare” that Boehner’s own party helped create, and if he’s unsatisfied with the president’s response, the Speaker will deliberately cause an economic catastrophe. Take steps to fix a long-term problem, Boehner is arguing, or the GOP will cause a short-term crisis on purpose.

A simple desire to do what’s best for one’s country should preclude such madness.

Indeed, look again at what Boehner was saying in November, December, and January. He knows what the right course of action is. He practically vowed to be responsible. He assured the nation that Republicans would take our collective obligations seriously. The Speaker’s own rhetoric made it clear he wasn’t going to risk a catastrophe as some kind of partisan game.

And yet, he we are, and Boehner is now prepared to do exactly that.

I have to hope that Boehner’s hostage strategy continues to be a radical stunt, and that he doesn’t actually intend to hurt all of us on purpose. He has the proverbial gun to the hostage’s head (in this case, our economy), but he doesn’t really want to pull the trigger — Boehner just wants Democrats to think he will so they’ll pay his ransom. That’s how the game works.

But as Ezra Klein noted this morning, “The danger in this is that as the rhetoric ramps up, the market may not realize this is all just more of Washington’s fun and games. Brinksmanship runs the risk of misjudging what is the last minute, or the maximum amount of uncertainty, that the market will accept before it reevaluates the American government’s capacity to pay its debts back in a timely and smooth way.”

When Americans elected a Republican House majority, they may not have realized just how serious a risk they were taking with our future. The electorate’s mistake may prove to be devastating fairly soon.