Setting up a ‘clean’ vote for failure

SETTING UP A ‘CLEAN’ VOTE FOR FAILURE…. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suggested this morning that the House will agree to vote, up or down, on a “clean” bill to raise the debt ceiling before the country reaches the debt limit in two weeks.

That may sound encouraging, but it’s not. The point would be to set up the “clean” bill to fail in order to “send a message” to the Senate and the White House.

“If it is necessary for us to tell the president that it is dead on arrival in the House, I believe that we can do that,” Cantor said following a Republican conference meeting. […]

Cantor, who sets the floor schedule for House Republicans, rejected the idea of raising the debt ceiling without real cuts to spending and accompanying reforms. He said the White House wants to raise the nation’s ability to borrow without cutting spending.

“I think that what we’ve heard from the president as well as a number of Democrats here in the House is that they’d like us to just go ahead and increase the nation’s credit limit without any changes,” Cantor said.

Um, yeah, actually they would. This isn’t a secret. When Dems say, “Let’s pass a clean bill,” it means they want a clean bill. Does Eric Cantor think he was sharing some kind of new revelation this morning? Is he just now figuring out that Democrats want lawmakers to “go ahead and increase the nation’s credit limit without any changes”?

For that matter, I also wonder if Cantor realizes that every other Congress, including those led by Republicans, also went ahead and increased the nation’s credit limit without any changes. It’s not like a clean bill would somehow be a radical departure — it’s actually the norm, and consistent with how the process has always worked. Indeed, Republicans holding the debt limit hostage is something no majority party has ever done.

Now, former Bush aide Peter Wehner doesn’t see it that way. He argues that the Republican expectation of a payoff in exchange for doing the right thing isn’t unprecedented at all — Dems, he said, played the same game just a few years ago during the Bush presidency.

I get the sense others in the media buy into this, as if what we’re seeing now is just another routine partisan game. Dems hatched reckless schemes under Bush, Republicans are hatching a reckless scheme under Obana, and this is just how the world turns.

But that’s not true at all. What House Republicans are up to in 2011 has no modern American precedent. Parties have huffed and puffed about the debt limit before, but Wehner’s misguided outrage notwithstanding, Democrats never seriously put the country in danger, never invited a debt-ceiling crisis, and they certainly received a ransom for doing their duty.

Did previous Congresses posture? Sure. Did they hold administrations hostage, threatening to destroy the economy on purpose? Of course not.

Nevertheless, the House will consider and kill the clean bill, probably soon, and tell the White House to start meeting the GOP’s ransom demands. The moment that happens, though, it may also send a signal to the financial industry and foreign investors that Washington dysfunction really is putting America’s future at risk.

As Ezra Klein noted last week, “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.”