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Once in a great while, developments in Congress can be simple and complicated at the same time. This afternoon is one of those instances.
Let's start with the easy one: it's become abundantly clear today that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) can either make far-right House Republicans happy or he can prevent U.S. defaulting on its debts. He can't do both.
That's the simple part of the story. The more complicated part is worth sitting down for.
House Republicans strategy as the debt ceiling clock ticks down: go harder right.
John Boehner found out this morning that he does not have the votes to pass a plan similar to what Senate Republicans are considering, even with added Obamacare sweetners for his conservative flank. And even if he did, Democrats immediately rejected the idea.
This morning, Boehner thought he had a plan: he'd sabotage the bipartisan package negotiated in the Senate, push his own alternative through the House today, score a modest ransom, and tell Democrats to pay up or else.
Within a couple of hours, that plan collapsed. Democrats in the House, Senate, and White House immediately rejected the idea, which Boehner expected. But then many House Republicans balked, too -- they said it wasn't right-wing enough -- which Boehner was unprepared for.
So, with two days remaining until the Oct. 17 deadline, the House's plan ... doesn't exist.
And that leaves Boehner with an interesting decision to make.
When there's a global economic crisis, investors from around the world have spent the last several generations doing one thing: they buy U.S. treasuries. The reasoning, of course, is that there is no safer investment, anywhere on the planet, than the United States of America -- which has the strongest and largest economy on the planet, and which always pays its bills.
All of these assumptions, of course, were cultivated over generations, and pre-date the radicalization of the Republican Party.
But what happens when U.S. treasuries are no longer considered safe, Americans can no longer be counted on to pay its bills, and the nation's most powerful economy chooses to default on purpose? The world starts reevaluating old assumptions, that's what.
In Britain, Jon Cunliffe, who will become deputy governor of the Bank of England next month, told members of Parliament that banks should be developing contingency plans to deal with an American default if one happens.
And Chinese leaders called on a "befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world." In a commentary on Sunday, the state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua blamed "cyclical stagnation in Washington" for leaving the dollar-based assets of many nations in jeopardy. It said the "international community is highly agonized."
I know I've been pushing this thesis in recent weeks, but it's important to remember the unique role the United States plays in global leadership and the extent to which Republican antics in Congress will change the dynamic that's been stable for the better part of the last century.
No major western power has defaulted since Hitler's Germany, so this week may add some history to the potentially catastrophic economic consequences, and the world is watching closely.
Indeed, try to imagine explaining this ongoing crisis to a foreign observer who doesn't fully appreciate the nuances of domestic politics. "Yes, we have the largest economy on the planet. Yes, we want to maintain global credibility. Yes, the process of extending our borrowing authority is incredibly easy and could be completed in about 10 minutes. No, some members of our legislative branch have decided they no longer want the United States to honor its obligations and pay for the things they've already bought."
I suspect global observers would find this truly inexplicable. As it happens, I'd agree with them.
There was palpable relief last night surrounding the debt ceiling. The House had withdrawn from the process; Senate leaders had crafted a bipartisan compromise; and the twin crises appeared to be nearing their end. All the House had to do was bring the Senate measure to the floor.
This apparently won't happen. Hopes that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) might muster the courage to lead his members in a responsible direction were dashed this morning, as House Republicans decided to reject the Senate's bipartisan compromise and move forward with their own plan.
House Republicans will vote as early as Tuesday on its own legislation to avert a default on the national debt and end a two-week-old closure of the federal government, tailored in a way to win over conservatives who have expressed skepticism toward an emerging Senate deal.
The new House GOP plan would open the government through mid-January and extend the debt through Feb. 7, which would be roughly in line with the Senate package. But House Republicans also intend to repeal the medical device tax in the Affordable Care Act for two years, and force members of Congress and White House staffers to pay more for health care.
Why would this be a high priority? Because House Republicans are more than a little nutty.
As for what happens next, you might want to keep a bottle of antacids handy.
Late last month, with just a few days remaining before the shutdown deadline, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) still hoped to avoid the crisis. However, House Republicans turned to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to offer them guidance -- and he urged House GOP lawmakers to ignore their own leaders and stick to his plan. House Republicans agreed and the government's lights went out four days later.
Last night, Washington found itself facing a similar dynamic. Once again, there's a compromise that could probably pass the House if it were brought to the floor for a vote; there's a House Speaker hoping to avoid a crisis; and there are radicalized House Republicans who don't realize they're playing a bad hand poorly.
And once again, four days before an important deadline, House GOP members turned to the junior senator from Texas.
Sen. Ted Cruz met with roughly 15 to 20 House Republicans for around two hours late Monday night at the Capitol Hill watering hole Tortilla Coast.
The group appeared to be talking strategy about how they should respond to a tentative Senate deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without addressing Obamacare in a substantive way, according to sources who witnessed the gathering. The Texas Republican senator and many of the House Republicans in attendance had insisted on including amendments aimed at dismantling Obamacare in the continuing resolution that was intended to avert the current shutdown.
Sources said the House Republicans meeting in the basement of Tortilla Coast with Cruz were some of the most conservative in the House: Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Raul R. Labrador of Idaho, Steve Southerland II of Florida, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Justin Amash of Michigan.
It's almost as if there's a group of isolated soldiers who haven't been notified of a war's end -- and they're led by a general who keeps telling them to find enemies to kill.
Worse, House Republicans don't seem to realize that Cruz has offered them horrible advice. The GOP has seen its national support crater in recent weeks, and if House Republicans decimate the global economy on purpose in a few days, their popularity will deteriorate further.
But GOP House members' judgment appears to be so impaired, they can no longer tell the difference between wisdom and foolishness. Indeed, there are reports this morning that House Republicans don't care about the bipartisan compromise emerging from the Senate, and may push the nation into default anyway.
The argument that both sides are always to blame for all problems is a force so powerful inside the Beltway, it has its own gravitational pull. Even observers who know better are sometimes dragged into it, to the delight of others who've already been affected.
With this in mind, Leon Panetta caused a bit of a stir yesterday by repeating the "enough blame to go around" line the Beltway is always desperate to hear.
Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta had harsh words for everyone in Washington -- including his former boss, President Barack Obama -- urging them to come to the table to end the government shutdown and reach a deal on the debt ceiling.
At a Wall Street Journal breakfast on Monday, Panetta spread the blame for the situation across the parties.
"When you are operating by crisis, I think there's enough blame to go around," Panetta said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Though Panetta was critical of "extreme" congressional Republicans, he also said of President Obama, "You have to engage in the process. This is a town where it's not enough to feel you have the right answers. You've got to roll up your sleeves and you've got to really engage in the process."
For those who may not be familiar with Panetta's c.v., he was President Clinton's White House chief of staff from 1994 through early 1997, during which time Clinton engaged in the process, rolled up his sleeves, and still saw congressional Republicans shut down the government -- twice.
It's almost as if having a president intent on avoiding crises doesn't much matter if far-right congressional Republicans are intent on creating crises. Presumably, Panetta saw this, up close, with his own eyes.
But the Beltway is still swooning because Panetta is playing by the rules and sticking to the script. It doesn't matter if the shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis are Republicans' fault; what matters is saying the opposite, whether it makes sense or not.
A bipartisan Senate package is slowly coming together that would reopen the government, avert a debt-ceiling catastrophe, reassure global markets, and return the federal government to some semblance of normalcy. All the House would have to do is approve the Senate bill on the last possible day to end this ongoing nightmare, at least for several months.
That may not happen. When the fate of the nation is on the line, and the plan calls the Republican-led House of Representatives to be responsible, a sense of dread is understandable.
Even a deal cut by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is no fait accompli in the House.
Many House Republicans are dismissing the terms of the deal McConnell is reportedly close to striking with Reid, and senior lawmakers are keeping their options open for amending the Senate deal or sending over their own bill.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who spoke at some length with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) yesterday, will meet with his members this morning and brief them on the emerging bipartisan Senate compromise. In theory, the Speaker could tell his conference, "None of us love this, but we don't want to be on the hook for a sovereign debt crisis, so let's hold our noses, get this over with, and live to see another day."
But Boehner may not have the strength or the courage to pull this off. It seems just as likely that he'll ask House Republicans what they want to do; unhinged members will refuse to consider the bipartisan Senate bill; and the House GOP will decide the compromise needs a little right-wing touch-up.
In other words, with the economy, America's reputation, and constitutional obligations on the line, the majority party of the House may decide to play a little game.
With the government already shut down and a debt-ceiling deadline just a couple of days away, a burst of optimism swept through the Senate yesterday. There is, at this moment, no final agreement that's been endorsed by both parties, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as they've done before, appear to have worked out a package both can live with.
So, what's in it? Benjy Sarlin has a tidy summary:
The deal under discussion would include an extension of federal funding to January 15, an extension of the debt limit until February and terms for a budget conference to work out a longer term spending deal by December 13, according to a Democratic aide.
The proposal would also make two minor changes to the Affordable Care Act. First, it would delay to the law's reinsurance fee, a provision requiring employers to pay into a pool that would support insurers if too few healthy people obtained coverage through the exchanges. This fee is opposed by labor unions, so the move would be considered a plus for Democrats. Second, it would put in place a stricter procedure for verifying the income of people applying for government subsidies to buy insurance, which Republicans could claim as a win.
Both parties would get something out of the bill.
And that's no small detail. Since the start of the crisis, congressional Republicans have made all kinds of "offers," each of which asked Democrats to make concessions in exchange for nothing. The package Reid and McConnell worked out is closer to a genuine compromise -- they each gave a bit on the calendar, with funding levels extended longer than Democrats wanted and the debt limit is extended a little longer than the GOP wanted, and then traded a couple of similarly sized policy concessions related to health care, which tinkers with the Affordable Care Act without making any major, substantive changes.
As for negotiations on the longer term spending deal, the framework for the talks will include, at Democrats' demand, the damaging-by-design sequestration policy that's hurting the economy.
Now what happens? Other than high anxiety?
Tonight's guests include:
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, (D) Rhode Island
Chris Matthews, host of “Hardball” on MSNBC and author of the new book, “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked”
Here is tonight's soundtrack! And here is executive producer Bill Wolff with a preview of tonight's show:
Today's edition of quick hits:
* There's been a flurry of activity on the Hill today, and it looks like Senate leaders have effectively reached an agreement that would reopen the government and extend the government's borrowing authority.
* Congressional leaders had planned to meet with President Obama at 3 p.m. eastern, but the gathering was delayed so work on an agreement could continue.
* Roll Call sketched out some of the apparent details, though nothing official has been announced.
* Abu Anas al-Libi: "A suspected al Qaeda operative who was captured in Libya and held aboard an American warship for interrogation has been taken to New York to face charges that he played a role in the bombings of two African embassies in 1998, federal authorities said Monday."
* Iran: "As negotiations get underway in Geneva Tuesday on Iran's disputed nuclear program, expectations are running higher than they have in a decade. But the barriers that remain are daunting, and are likely to center on what the experts call Iran's "breakout capacity," the ability to build a nuclear weapon in a matter of months, and its willingness to accept intrusive inspections."
* A new Washington Post/ABC News poll confirms what all recent polling shows: Republicans are getting crushed by the shutdown crisis.
* Wise choice: "A coalition of gun groups that's faced harsh criticism for its decision to hold a 'Guns Save Lives Day' on December 14, the anniversary of the horrific Newtown school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, has changed the date of that event."
* It's irritating when longtime U.S. senators don't know the difference between the deficit and the debt.
* Paul Krugman characterizes Tea Party Republicans as the neighbor from hell.
* Good advice from E.J. Dionne Jr.: "Obama can't slip back into the style of deficit wrangling that so weakened him in 2011. He now has an opening to refocus on his priorities: universal pre-kindergarten education, immigration reform, rebuilding our transportation and communications systems -- and, one would like to hope, an even broader agenda for speeding growth and sharing its dividends fairly."
* Every time Fox News hosts confess publicly that they're helping Republicans, I'm a little surprised to see them drop the pretense.
Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.
Words have power and meaning, especially in politics, which is why the parties and their pollsters invest so much energy in choosing the most effective phrases possible. Fox News didn't push "slimdown" as an ideologically pleasing alternative to "shutdown" for entertainment's sake -- it's about winning an argument by defining the parameters of the debate.
Professional news organizations are often careful on this front because they don't want to advance one set of talking points over another, and this in turn sometimes leads to interesting media pushback.
Last week, for example, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney used a variety of metaphors during a press briefing to describe congressional Republicans extortion strategies, but as Scott Wilson noted, one in particular was not well received.
[I]t was "ransom" -- a word Obama has used repeatedly to describe Republican negotiating tactics -- that struck the last press corps nerve. The usual briefing room decorum, such as it is, broke down entirely when Carney said finally that Obama would sign a debt-ceiling extension but not if it meant "paying a ransom" to Republicans.
"The president will not pay ransom for ... " Carney began.
"You see it as a ransom, but it's a metaphor that doesn't serve our purposes ... " NPR correspondent Ari Shapiro shouted back with broad support from other confused reporters.
There's an official transcript online if you want to see the complete context, but it appears that "ransom" was a bridge too far for some of the journalists covering the White House.
I'm not unsympathetic to reporters' concerns -- "ransom" is not exactly a neutral term. Republicans have acknowledged publicly that they've held the debt ceiling "hostage," but they have not gone so far as to accept "ransom" as a broadly agreed upon term.
But under the circumstances, I'm also not sure which word would satisfy the political establishment as less shrill.
The Affordable Care Act's open-enrollment period is now two weeks old, and any fair assessment would say the rollout has been difficult. Indeed, Ezra Klein caused a stir this morning with an unflinching piece calling the launch a "failure" and a "disaster," which is harsh but fair.
The larger context and circumstances certainly matter. As we discussed last week, similar rollouts for Medicare Part D and Romneycare in Massachusetts faced similar problems in their infancy, and like them, there's every reason to believe the Affordable Care Act will get its act together. It's also worth considering how and why these problems have plagued the new system, and how much smoother the process might be with some modicum of Republican cooperation.
But it's the larger political irony that's hard to miss. "Obamacare" is off to a rough start, but it's become more popular, not less. Instead of Republicans capitalizing on the bad news surrounding the law, they're effectively being forced to give up on their repeal crusade altogether.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, said on Fox News Sunday that the GOP's "overreach" in trying to defund Obamacare should be a warning to Democrats as they fight to undo the devastating spending cuts known as sequestration.
"Republicans started off in a place that was an overreach, to defund a law that was central to the president's agenda was not achievable," he said.
Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) much-discussed Wall Street Journal op-ed last week ignored the health care law; Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said last week that going after the Affordable Care Act is "currently off the table"; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has told his party it's time to move on; and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) has characterized the Republican efforts to defund the law as "a bridge too far."
A Senate Republican aide told TPM this morning, "Outside a few borderline delusional folks, no one believes there's a viable strategy to stop Obamacare."
The air is clearly escaping this balloon.
Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.)
Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) told The Hill over the weekend that the Senate may reach an agreement to resolve the ongoing crises gripping Washington, but he and his House Republican colleagues should be prepared to reject it -- no matter how severe the consequences are for the country.
"We have to make a decision that's right long-term for the United States, and what may be distasteful, unpleasant and not appropriate in the short run may be something that has to be done," he said.
Griffith, a former majority leader of the Virginia House of Delegates, cited as an example the American Revolution.
"I will remind you that this group of renegades that decided that they wanted to break from the crown in 1776 did great damage to the economy of the colonies," Griffith said. "They created the greatest nation and the best form of government, but they did damage to the economy in the short run."
I wish I could better explain such a perspective. In Griffith's mind, American colonists damaged their economy to create their own nation, and this is similar to congressional Republicans today because ... they hate the Affordable Care Act? They want cuts to Social Security and Medicare?
This notion of long-term and short-term thinking is also fascinating. For Griffith, congressional Republicans may feel the need to crash the global economy this week, and destroy the full faith and credit of the United States for the foreseeable future, but this will be the "right" thing the nation in the long-term. Why? Because Morgan Griffith says so.
I hate to break it to the confused congressman, but his argument is gibberish. A sovereign debt crisis would be more than "unpleasant," and House Republicans are not revolutionary heroes battling a king.
This is the kind of guy Senate Republicans are eager to satisfy?