Boehner should want one debt-ceiling vote, not two

In the latest debt-ceiling plan floated by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), his caucus would be required to vote to raise the debt-ceiling twice in less than a year. I’m having trouble understanding why he thinks that’s a good idea.

As we talked about earlier, Boehner envisions a two-step process. Step one: $1 trillion in cuts would lead to a temporary debt-limit increase. Step two: Congress works on tax/entitlement reform and then votes again on another debt-limit increase next year.

Democrats hate this idea. They’re willing to pursue a two-step process on debt reduction, but want one vote on raising the debt ceiling. It’d reduce economic uncertainty; it’d decrease the odds of a crisis next year; it’d make the legislative process easier by removing the vote from election-year politics, etc.

But Boehner insists: two votes or the GOP crashes the economy.

I’m not sure why he thinks picking this fight is a good idea. For the sake of his own caucus, shouldn’t the Speaker want one vote, not two?

Freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) said Republican leaders remain concerned that even a small increase in the debt limit would fail on the House floor.

“I think their concern about bringing it to the floor is whether they can get 218 [votes] or not,” Farenthold said in an interview. “Everybody wants to only go through this pain once.” [emphasis added]

Literally any vote in the House is going to be extremely difficult. The GOP’s Suicide Squad is simply too big.

And yet, John Boehner’s bright idea is to force two difficult votes for his caucus that doesn’t even want one difficult vote?

I realize, from the Speaker’s perspective, he intends to follow through on an earlier benchmark: he only wants to raise the debt ceiling by savings matched dollar for dollar. In this case, he’ll raise the limit by $1 trillion in exchange for $1 trillion in cuts, and then back another raise in the limit next year.

But the standard is entirely arbitrary; Boehner can change it whenever he wants. There’s nothing stopping him from pushing his two-tiered strategy and allowing one vote to get this over with.

Given that this has become a key sticking point preventing a deal, it’s a bizarre demand for the Speaker. Boehner knows his caucus doesn’t want to cast the vote at all, but he knows his caucus has to anyway. Why force them to do it twice if he doesn’t have to?

Boehner can still get the framework he wants, and make this caucus only bite the bullet once. That sounds like a win-win for him. Does the Speaker really see this as worth crashing the economy over?

Update: This morning, Tim Geithner reemphasized that the deal must “take the threat of default off the table through the election.” That’s the right way to frame this: one approach eliminates the threat; the other leaves the threat around. Why go with the latter if it’s unneccessary?