Yesterday Speaker John Boehner announced that House Republicans would again take hostage any measure to increase the public debt limit–which might be needed prior to the end of the year, though likely after the elections–unless their demands are met to (a) extend the Bush tax cuts, due to expire December 31, (b) enact spending cuts equal to or more than the increased debt authorized, and (c) cancel the planned “sequestration” of defense appropriations agreed to as a fall-back measure in last year’s debt limit agreement.
There’s a lot of tricky timing involved in this scenario. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has indicated it might be possible to go without a debt limit increase until early next year, which could decouple both the Bush tax cut expiration and the Pentagon sequester from the debt limit increase unless Republicans can find some way to force the issue. It’s also likely the election results will affect the dynamics significantly. Would House Republicans want to present a president-elect Mitt Romney with a debt limit crisis? Or would they try to kick the can into 2013, and if so, would Democrats cooperate?
In any event, it’s a mite strange that Boehner is raising the threat so early. At TPM, Congress-watcher Brian Beutler examines various reasons he might be doing so, and concludes it’s mostly about the familiar pressure Boehner faces from a radicalized conservative movement that keeps him on a very short lease:
Boehner’s big announcement Tuesday was almost certainly conceived in the same cramped box his unruly conference has kept him in since the first day of his speakership. His conservative members are still bloodthirsty, and untrusting of the leadership. He’s had countless fights with them blow up in his face over the past year and a half, and they’ve defected from some of his key, successful initiatives by the dozens. To make matters worse for him, his party is expected to lose House seats in November. If Boehner’s fighting for his speakership, this is a way to make a final appeal to the radicals in his party.
But there are wheels within wheels in the GOP radicalization machine. Boehner’s not the only GOPer having to deal with chronic mistrust from movement conservatives: the legendary House GOP class of 2010 is being accused of creeping RINOism as well, as evidenced by a new Club for Growth “study” (really just a subset of its annual rating of Member of Congress according to the Club’s litmus tests) that’s getting lots of attention in the wingnutosphere. Here’s the Club’s ominous rhetoric about the “study:”
In the 2010 election, 87 freshmen House Republicans came to Washington pledging fealty to the Tea Party movement and the ideals of limited government and economic freedom. The mainstream media likes to say that the freshman class is the most uncompromising group of fiscal conservatives in history…but just how Tea Party are they? Did all 87 freshmen always vote to cut spending and limit the size of government, or did some of them vote like the big-spending R.I.N.Os of the past?
You can see where this is going. And sure enough, plenty of ’10ers were given mediocre scores by the Club. I wonder if they might have had Allen West–whose score was a lukewarm 64%–in mind when they suggested that “in many cases, the rhetoric of the so-called ‘Tea Party’ freshmen simply didn’t match their records.
Wingnut commissar Erick Erickson’s reaction to the “study” was illuminating:
I’m afraid if the tea party is not much more successful in primarying Republican candidates and then having those guys practice what they preach, the GOP is within a decade of going the way of the Whigs.
In any event, a manufactured debt limit crisis linked to absolutist fiscal demands is the single most important ideological signal available to House Republicans to show their hearts are in the Right place. The bigger picture is that the rightward trend in the Republican Party hasn’t stopped, and won’t stop after the elections, no matter what happens. A presidential/congressional victory will represent that great gettin’ up morning when all the promises to “the base” have to be redeemed. And as in 2006-2008, a defeat will be interpreted by the ascendant Right that yet again, Republicans have betrayed their “conservative principles,” a spin that will be made even easier by the nomination of “moderate” Mitt Romney and the congressional leadership of Boehner, who has been caught again and again showing an inclination towards marginal levels of responsibility. Eric Cantor (2011 Club for Growth score: 55%) isn’t much better. Time for more purges, and more pressure for Republican officeholders to prove their good faith by dragging the federal government and the economy to the bottom of hell.