Haggling Over the Price

There may be deeper dynamics of the current fiscal fight that are eluding me or that only Politico-style digging in the dirt can expose. But Jonathan Chait sure seems to succinctly capture the basic obstacles to any sort of bipartisan resolution right now:

[T]he bigger problem here is that conservatives are not acknowledging the Democrats’ belief [that they can’t negotiate over the debt limit]. It’s not a pose. They genuinely think, regardless of the merits of the ransom demand, they can’t give in, both for the national long-term interest and on moral principle. Conservatives are acting like the problem here is that they asked for a bit too much to begin with, and want to start haggling down the price. The price isn’t the issue. If the conservative goal is to create the illusion of winning something for the debt ceiling, then they’ll come back next time to win more, and Democrats can’t allow that.

This gap in comprehension is reflected even more in John Boehner’s otherwise baffling simultaneous assertions that he won’t allow a debt default but intends to rally Republicans around a tough negotiating stance on the debt limit. The only way this makes any sense is if negotiations are a given, and the Speaker’s simply saying there are limits to how far he’ll go to win maximum concessions. In other words, he won’t demand an unreasonable price for increasing the debt limit. But if any price is unreasonable, where do Republicans go then? To a fantasy world where two plus two equals five?

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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.