Sizing Up Hostages

There was a long piece at Politico today by Jake Sherman with a catchy title–“House In Chaos”–which was mainly a vehicle for getting conservative advocacy types to make threatening noises in the direction of Speaker John Boehner. I take this sort of story with a shaker of salt, but buried near the end was some interesting news about the efforts of House Republicans to figure out which hostage to take when action on the debt limit becomes necessary in September or whenever:

First, House Republicans want to pass a bill next week that prioritizes debt payments in the case of default.

Several options are being eyed to ride alongside the debt ceiling. One is tax reform — a strategy vocally supported by Ryan, sources say. This method would include passing a framework for tax reform, which would allow Congress to lift the debt ceiling, alongside a plan to allow tax-writing committees to figure out how to write the difficult details of reform.

Another option under discussion, according to aides, is moving a package including some spending cuts, elements of entitlement reforms and piecemeal tax-reform measures.

The former approach would presumably represent some sort of “fast-track” process for tax legislation, but not any actual changes in the tax code. The second, another “see what we can get” cats-and-dogs measure, would probably please such Tea Types as are willing to contemplate anything other than a debt default, but would depend on an expectation of a White House surrender.

At this point, it’s not clear if House GOP leaders are mainly trying to trick the media, trick the White House, or trick their own Members. But it does seem they’ve made a firm commitment to tricking somebody.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.