House Republicans have planned for weeks now to try to avert a government shutdown by promising their members an epic fight over the debt ceiling. Yesterday they began circulating their initial ransom list of demands that President Obama and Senate Democrats must meet or else watch the world economy melt down. It is, uh, rather extensive, and really needs to be read in full to appreciate its megalomaniacal ambition:
One Year Debt Limit Increase
• Not a dollar amount increase, but suspending the debt limit until the end of December 2014.
Similar to what we did earlier this year.
• Want the year long to align with the year delay of Obamacare.
One Year Obamacare delay
Tax Reform Instructions
• Similar to a bill we passed last fall, laying out broad from Ryan Budget principles for what tax reform should look like.
• Gives fast track authority for tax reform legislation
Energy and regulatory reforms to promote economic growth
• Includes pretty much every jobs bill we have passed this year and last Congress
• All of these policies have important positive economic effects.
• Energy provisions
Coal Ash regulations
Energy production on federal lands
EPA Carbon regulations
• Regulatory reform
Regulatory process reform
Consent decree reform
Blocking Net Neutrality
Mandatory Spending Reforms
• Mostly from the sequester replacement bills we passed last year
• Federal Employee retirement reform
• Ending the Dodd Frank bailout fund
• Transitioning CFPB funding to Appropriations
• Child Tax Credit Reform to prevent fraud
• Repealing the Social Services Block grant
Health Spending Reforms
• Means testing Medicare
• Repealing a Medicaid Provider tax gimmick
• Tort reform
• Altering Disproportion Share Hospitals
• Repealing the Public Health trust Fund
Does that list sound vaguely familiar? It’s Mitt Romney’s 2012 economic plan. Almost word for word, in fact. True, Romney proposed to repeal Obamacare, while the House Republicans propose to delay it for a year. But the gambit there — extend the debt ceiling for a year while delaying Obamacare a year, so that the next debt ceiling hike lines up with another Obamacare delay — makes the two tactics essentially the same.
The rest of the list is Romney’s agenda on taxes, regulation of the environment, finance and other business, Medicare, tort reform. That’s their opening demand: implement Romney’s economic plan or melt down the economy.
Now, everybody realizes that the Republicans won’t stick to this demand in the end. The strategy is to begin by demanding everything they want, so that when they “compromise” to merely destroying Obamacare, it seems reasonable. But two aspects of this approach are immediately striking. The first is its tactical wisdom. John Boehner seems to believe that the way out of the shutdown problem is to make extravagant promises for the debt ceiling crisis, which is a much more dire threat, and on which Obama has committed himself not to negotiate. Why would making more extensive promises make this easier for Boehner in the end? Won't it make conservatives that much angrier when he ultimately has to give up the things he promised?
The second point is a normative one. The fact that a major party could even propose anything like this is a display of astonishing contempt for democratic norms. Republicans ran on this plan and lost by 5 million votes. They also lost the Senate and received a million fewer votes in the House but held control owing to favorable district lines. Is there an example in American history of a losing party issuing threats to force the majority party to implement its rejected agenda?