Slouching Towards Calamity

Funny, isn’t it, how we’re drifting–or maybe slouching is a better term–towards a potential debt limit crisis with the Speaker of the House planning his retirement and absolutely nobody in a position to talk conservatives into accepting the “clean bill” that’s the only thing Democrats will support and Obama will sign. Here’s the situation right now, per The Hill‘s Peter Schroeder:

With the House still clueless about who its next Speaker will be, Congress has just 10 legislative days to tackle a topic at the center of some of the most pitched fiscal battles of the last several years.

The deadline was moved up Thursday by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who told Congress it has only until Nov. 3 to raise the government’s $18.1 trillion borrowing cap….

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is engaged in budget talks with the White House, but there is little optimism a deal could be struck in time to act on the debt limit.

In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is wondering whether he’s going to get to leave Congress at the end of the month.

When he announced his resignation, Boehner said he was ready to clean up some outstanding issues for his successor — which Washington took as a signal on the debt limit.

But Boehner could face a move from conservatives to remove him as Speaker immediately if he brings a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling to the floor.

Another problem for Boehner is the Republican presidential race. The debt limit hasn’t been a major issue for the field so far, but that is likely to change if it dominates headlines ahead of Nov. 3.

The next Republican presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 28, just five days before the deadline.

What could go wrong? Pretty much anything and everything, I’d guess.

Without a hike, the specter of a default on U.S. obligations looms large — potentially setting the stage for significant market turmoil and dire consequences for America’s financial reputation across the globe….

“The first thing you’ll see is a market reaction,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, head of the right-leaning American Action Forum and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. “Then you’ve got dramatic impacts on consumer confidence, the world’s melting down again and they go into an economic fetal position … there’s just no good news there.”

Yet the chattering classes seem strangely passive about it all, as though John Boehner’s retirement and the possibility of Paul Ryan replacing him have taken care of all the outstanding issues involving the House GOP.

Come to think of it, it’s not very funny.

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.