Here’s the best rule for determining what John Boehner will do in any situation: If there is a way for him to delay a moment of confrontation or political risk, he will do it. That’s why Boehner’s current plan is to raise the debt ceiling for six weeks while keeping the government shut down.
Business is freaked out and will be furious with him if he triggers a default. So he’s raising the debt ceiling for long enough to get them off his back. And tea-partiers will be furious if he abandons their quest to defund Obamacare by shutting down the government. So he’s leaving that part in place.
Is there a plausible strategic logic to this plan? None that I can see. The putative reason for delaying the debt limit is to open fiscal negotiations with Democrats. But Republicans have been dodging fiscal negotiations with Democrats for most of the year. Why? Because they don’t want to compromise on the budget. They want unilateral concessions.
Obama won’t give Republicans unilateral concessions. Any deal Boehner strikes with Democrats will have to contain some concessions to Democrats, which will further enrage the tea party. So there’s no deal Boehner can cut on the budget that won’t anger the base, which brings us back to the same stalemate — waiting until the next debt-limit hike, when he needs to prevent catastrophe again.
Meanwhile, he’s keeping the government shut down because a shutdown, while damaging, carries no hard-and-fast deadline like the debt limit. The damage is cumulative. But the damage is also very real, both to the country as a whole and to the GOP’s image. Since there’s no particular moment when he absolutely has to confront his own crazies, Boehner will just wait.
Basically, his plan is to hide under some coats and hope it all works out somehow: