The failure of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to get enough votes yesterday from the Republican caucus to pass the deficit reduction/debt ceiling legislation he drafted has the federal budgeting world scrambling today for new options.
With only four days left before the August 2 date on which the Treasury says the federal government will begin to turn into a fiscal and financial pumpkin, two options that up to now were said must not be spoken — the Lord Voldemorts of the budget — are starting to be discussed very openly.
The first would be a decision by Boehner to work with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.. to come up with a bill that 100 or so Democrats will support. They'll need that many because any bill that attracts Democratic votes will mean that Boehner will lose more Republicans than the 25 or so that yesterday reportedly could not be moved to vote for the bill.
It would also mean, however, that Boehner would be completely isolated from the GOP tea party wing and most or all of his 87 first-termers. These Republican House members distrusted Boehner before; working will Democrats -- what they consider collaborating with the enemy -- will push them over the edge. If Boehner worked with Democrats to get this bill passed he likely will have to collaborate with them on every other major policy initiative the House considers the rest of this session because the tea partiers may refuse to join with him on general principles. Boehner would also probably be challenged in a primary for the 2012 election and, if he isn't deposed as speaker before then, almost certainly would be challenged for the GOP party leadership slot after the next election.
The second would be a decision by the White House to go it alone, that is, for the president to claim the unilateral authority to deal with the situation if Congress is unable or unwilling to do so. The president would rely on Section 4 of the the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution or any other theory he wants to do this, but it essentially would have him ordering the Treasury secretary to borrow to protect the economy, the federal government's credit, etc. even if Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling.
Like the Lord Voldemort option facing Boehner, this one would come at significant personal political peril to Obama. There almost certainly would be a number of attempts to use the courts to stop the president's actions. More important, however, there also would be the strong possibility of impeachment proceedings beginning in the House against both the Treasury secretary (assuming he carries out the president's orders) and the president himself.