GOP could trade one hostage for another

Late yesterday, a senior Republican aide told the Washington Post that House GOP leaders have “no idea” how to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis they created. Those two words — “no idea” — are the kind of words that may cause some panic.

But at the risk of beating a dead horse, at least one lawmaker has an easy solution that would resolve the problem in minutes.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) decision to end negotiations with President Obama on a sweeping deficit-reduction package to accompany a debt-ceiling hike was “shocking,” “dangerous” and risks an economic calamity.

“I want the opportunity to vote straight up” on a clean debt-ceiling bill, Welch said in a phone interview Friday night.

Welch led the push for a clean bill in May, which was soundly defeated as part of a GOP stunt. But in May, few thought the crisis would intensify to its current point.

“That was a show vote, intended to try to increase their leverage,” Welch told The Hill last night. “It was not consequential…. This time it would matter. We’re now on the brink of default.”

Now, I know what Republicans are going to say. Or more specifically, I know what they’ll say after they stop laughing. The GOP will argue they need the debt ceiling for leverage, and passing a clean bill would make it harder to strike a debt-reduction deal, since Republicans would lose their hostage.

But I’d suggest they simply take a different hostage. They could, first thing Monday morning, take a few minutes to raise the debt ceiling, and then immediately announce they’ll shut down the government in the fall unless Democrats agree to a large debt-reduction package. The fiscal year only goes through September anyway, which isn’t that far off.

President Obama clearly wants to reach a debt-reduction agreement, and both parties would have an incentive to avoid a shutdown in a few months. It would give policymakers time to continue negotiations, without running the risk of a global economic catastrophe (which, Dems could remind Republicans, would likely be blamed on the GOP).

Wall Street, global markets, the private sector, state and local governments, and consumers would all be thrilled. Democrats would be relieved, and Republicans could wipe their hands of this mess and get ready for the next big showdown.

What’s more, there’s ample precedent for this. There have been bipartisan debt-reduction packages crafted before, but there’s never been a need to tie the process to the debt ceiling. There’s a good reason for that: playing with the ceiling is too dangerous, as GOP leaders have no doubt noticed by now.

One effortless vote could make the crisis disappear, while setting the stage for the budget battle royale Republicans want. So why not pass the damn bill and move on?