How And Why The Boehner Bill Matters

by Jonathan Chait | July 28, 2011

Yesterday I argued that John Boehner's (apparently) successful taming of the right-wing insurgency within his party represents an important step toward the eventual solution of the debt ceiling crisis. Jonathan Cohn is more cautious, and guest posting Norm Ornstein is downright morose:

[A] speaker can only go to the well once or twice to get his or her members to walk the plank. In this case, Boehner’s tactical maneuvers mean that he is asking two dozen or more of his colleagues to walk that plank in return for something that has no chance of becoming law. Instead, it is a vote to give him the barest amount of additional traction to cut a deal for a plan that will dilute even further the package that they are on record condemning for its weakness. Many of the reluctants will not be willing to walk the plank a second time for the compromise. So Boehner will face another crossroads—will he be willing to bring up and push for a plan that will require almost as many Democrats as Republicans, to make up for the defections in his own ranks?

That's certainly true, though we have to keep in mind that since the voting coalition for the eventual debt ceiling bill will be different -- involving many democrats and many fewer Republicans -- Boehner can afford to lose a lot of the conservatives he's cajoling this time.

Boehner is going to pass this bill by skillfully appealing to raw partisan tribalism. (GOP member of Congress: "Let's knock the shit out of them!") He'll need a very different approach to actually lift the debt ceiling -- assuming Senate Democrats and President Obama don't just cave and support his bill, which I'm nearly sure they won't.

If this bill is not going to be signed into law, what does it mean? Mainly, I think it provides Republicans with a P.R. message if (and I'd say when) we pass August 2nd without a deal. hey'll say they passed a bill, they're not the problem, the Democrats are the problem. Then it becomes a he-said, she-said fight over which party is to blame. Now, the Republican message there is ridiculous, but it is a message.

The reason I think this is bad news is that the Boehner vote will give Republicans confidence to head into a debt ceiling message war and avoid total blame for the fiasco. They may or may not be right about it, but they're going to try to go past August 2nd and see if they can fight the public opinion war to a stalemate. Then they can force Democrats to bend. If they could not pass the Boehner bill, then they'd face pressure to just pass a clean debt ceiling hike earlier.

I understand that I'm making complicated arguments. The only debt ceiling bill that can pass the Senate and get Obama's signature is a bill that Boehner is going to need lots of Democratic votes to pass. In sum, it's good that Boehner has gotten the extremists to move off their most extreme stance on the debt ceiling. But it would be bad if the bill passes the House, as it will set up gridlock and a showdown that gets less likely to solve.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/92838/how-and-why-the-boehner-bill-matters