Speaker John Boehner is having a heckuva time getting his very-right-wing caucus to support any debt ceiling increase that wasn't written on a stone tablet by Ayn Rand herself. What is really striking about the process of trying to appeal to the Republican caucus, however, is what they actually view as "good" things and "bad" things.
Judging from the demands of congressional Republicans, these things are considered "good":
- Defaulting on the nation's debt obligations for the first time in history, tarnishing the nation's credit rating and causing an unprecedented economic catastrophe. Or, if they can't make that happen:
- Destroying (either all at once or in pieces) vital social programs like Social Security and Medicare that not only keep many Americans out of poverty, but also keep them alive.
- Large cutbacks in government spending which would certainly crash an already-stalling economic recovery (Great if you only care about making Obama look bad!).
- Cutting back pretty much any government program that doesn't benefit rich people or corporations (this includes anything that helps/protects children, seniors, vets, the poor and the unemployed).
- More tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires and corporations, of course.
And here are things that congressional Republicans appear to consider "bad":
- Any suggestion that millionaires, billionaires or corporations should have to sacrifice anything to help balance the budget.
- Anything that could help/protect the aforementioned vulnerable groups (children, seniors, vets, the poor and the unemployed).
Despite the fact that Speaker Boehner's debt ceiling bill did a great job of forcing cuts on the most vulnerable in order to balance the budget on the backs of people struggling to get by—while at the same time completely protected the richest Americans and huge corporations—his ultra-conservative caucus was still displeased.
Yes, they wanted even more painful cuts to important programs, as one would expect, but beyond that there was one thing in particular in the bill that they could not stomach: A provision that would have actually helped ... *gulp* ... low-income ... students! (the horror... the horror...)
I know what you are asking yourself--Why on earth would John Boehner do anything to try to help common people?!?
It appears as though the provision was added as a weak attempt to get Democrats to support the bill (which is something like putting lipstick on a three-week-old rotting pig carcass and trying to pass it off as your prom date). But they thought it might work, you see, because apparently Democrats think things like Pell Grants that help common people are good things! (I know what you are thinking, what suckers!)
Anyway, Tea Party Republicans weren't going to stand for such benevolence (especially after they recently passed a budget that slashed Pell Grants and kicked 1.4 million would-be students out of the program, making attending college that much harder). No, naturally they were angry that they might actually have to vote for an otherwise delightfully terrible bill that had a small sliver of decency buried in it. Now who wouldn't be upset by that?? (Answer: People with a conscience)
So for some time last night and this morning the GOP leadership was trying to figure out how to "sweeten the deal" for their right-wing caucus. An obvious way of achieving this would be eliminating the funding for Pell Grants (that help millions of low-income students attend college) because, honestly, what is sweeter than making sure young Americans can't afford college?
Luckily for students there was another option. Speaker Boehner decided, graciously, to include a provision in the bill that would require Congress to print all bills on smurf hide, inked with unicorn tears, and the Tea Party Republicans rejoiced! (No, actually it was a requirement forcing Congress to pass a "Balanced Budget" amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which basically ensures that his bill stands a yeti's chance in hell of passing the Senate)
So maybe, just maybe, Boehner has been able to make his bill horrible enough, destructive enough, and reckless enough, that he'll be able to convince most of the GOP caucus to support it. Thankfully, for those still living in the real world, Boehner's bill will die in the Senate, so all that will have been lost are a few crucial days that could have been spent crafting a bipartisan compromise, instead of playing in the land of make-believe with the Tea Party freshmen.
My real question is this: What kind of person do you have to be to see cutting funding that allows low-income students to attend college as "sweetening the deal"? What kind of person do you have to be to actually get angry at the thought of voting to support a popular program that helps kids have a shot at chasing the American Dream?
Probably the same type of person who would rather drive the US to default and crash the already-fragile economy to make sure the richest Americans and corporations don't have to pay a penny extra to help the country. But low-income college students...the elderly...vets...the unemployed...the poor...well screwing them is considered a good thing, I guess.
Note: The Boehner plan also eliminates subsidized student loans for graduate and professional students, which is also a very bad policy if we put any value on American competitiveness and prosperity in the future. To be fair, Senator Reid's debt ceiling bill would do the same thing, which shows that in this environment in which the narrative in Washington has been so thoroughly hijacked by the extreme right-wing, we are left with a choice between a disastrous plan and one that is simply really really awful. At this point, the best thing would be to simply (and quickly) pass a clean, unconditional increase in the debt limit (like we have always done in the past) so we can protect the economy and move on to real issues. You can demand that by clicking here.