Boehner Caves. Again.

Bill Scher
Boehner Caves. Again.

In July, Speaker Boehner said, “We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending.”

On Sunday, Boehner said, “I’m not going to raise the debt limit without a serious conversation about dealing with problems that are driving the debt up.”

And today we learn that “serious conversation” means setting up House-Senate conference committee to negotiate a budget resolution that Senate Democrats had long been trying to set up anyway, with no requirement that the conference committee has any actual serious conversations, let alone results.

From “real cuts” to “serious conversation” to sitting around a table.

This is known as a cave.

And this is not the first debt limit cave by John Boehner this year.

Back in January, Boehner engineered a temporary suspension of the debt limit with a similar fig leaf condition: that the House and Senate each had to pass a version of the budget or else congresspeople would lose their paychecks. No requirements on what’s in the budget, no requirement for House and Senate to agree.

The pattern is clear: Republicans talk tough about taking the debt limit hostage, then fold when staring default in the face.

Because everyone in both parties knows that default spells political doom for Republicans.

The only way Republicans lose the House and blow their very good chances of taking the Senate is if they choose to cause a global economic calamity for no good reason. Yet they still decided to embark on a hostage operation based on the strategy of pointing the gun to their own head.

Yes, it’s annoying that Boehner is only proposing a six-week increase. But Democrats need not presume Boehner is craftily concocting a scenario where Democrats must cave on the budget before Thanksgiving.

Unless Republicans achieve a new level of reasonableness by offering significant policy concessions — in particular, corporate tax increases — what is true today will be true in six weeks: all the pressure is on Republicans to avoid default.

Republicans are still the ones playing with debt limit fire. Republicans are the still the ones making unreasonable yet comically shifting demands. Republicans are still the ones who have something to lose politically in 2014.

And Democrats know, when faced with default, twice so far this year, Republicans will flinch.

Now, a debt limit increase that goes beyond Election Day 2014 is vastly preferable. It would likely expedite the end of the shutdown, quickly relieve us from paralyzing gridlock, disempower the Tea Party and open the doors up to reform legislation starting with immigration.

In turn, the White House is wisely keeping a bit of distance from the Boehner gambit and only formally endorsing the pending Senate bill with a long-term increase.

It’s quite possible Boehner can’t get his bill through the House, if enough congresspeople from the left and right flanks reject it. There are early signs that Boehner does not have a unified Republican caucus around his proposal.

If the House fails to pass its bill, while the Senate clears its version, Boehner will be forced to choose between long-term increase and default, and he’ll have to do the former for the sake of his party and the world economy.

But if Boehner is able to squeeze his six-week bill through, that’s just fine. We can watch the Republicans cave every six weeks if that’s what they prefer.

Remember, the winter debt limit increase was short-term too. It didn’t end up being a trap for Democrats, but a hole for Republicans to dig themselves in deeper.

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