the national interest

Debt Ceiling Hostage Update

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll advances an underplayed scoop first unearthed by National Review’s Robert Costa — the House Republican leadership is placating conservatives upset they won’t shut down the government in order to defend Obamacare by promising to use the debt ceiling to defund or delay Obamacare:


The plan is to pass a 60-day CR extension that keeps discretionary spending at the existing sequestration levels. Then House leadership wants to combine Democratic desires to roll-back sequestration with conservative desires to delay/defund Obamacare into the debt limit fight.

As I noted earlier, far from being a de-escalation of the party’s apocalyptic threats, this would represent a massive escalation. Closing the federal government for a limited period would have mostly political consequences (probably for the Republicans). The substantive effects build up cumulatively and start to really harm the economy after weeks on end, but the two sides could negotiate through a shutdown.

The debt ceiling is another story. The effects of missing the deadline would be immediate and, while unpredictable, potentially very large and irreversible. That’s why Obama now insists, after disastrously allowing himself to be extorted in 2011, he won’t negotiate the debt ceiling, but has never made an analogous pledge about a continuing resolution.

The sequencing of the two events is especially dangerous. Conservatives have riled themselves up over shutting down the government to stop the dread Obamacare, and party leaders have had to gently coax them to drop the weapon. But in so doing, they have an even greater need to placate their implacable wing, and an even harder time talking the implacables out of the next showdown, which happens to have massively greater ramifications.

The emerging Republican plan is so dangerous I have a hard time imagining the House will actually follow through. I believe Obama’s insistence that he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling, and even if I thought he’d cave, there’s no way he’d cave on the Affordable Care Act. But then the House leadership will again find itself in the position of making promises to the base and then backing off, further depleting Boehner’s never-plenty supply of credibility. How long can this go on without either Boehner losing his job or the debt trigger going off?

Debt Ceiling Hostage Update