the national interest

Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell Issue Least Frightening Hostage Threat Ever

Let’s do this again! Fire up Photoshop. Photo: Photos: Warner Bros (Dark Knight), Getty Images (Boehner), Shutterstock (Uncle Sam)

Last Sunday, when Paul Ryan announced on Fox News Sunday that Republicans would again demand policy concessions in return for lifting the debt ceiling, I paid little attention, in part because the host, Chris Wallace, appeared to push Ryan into it (WALLACE: Sir, I understand, but the question is, are you going to demand more in return for raising the deficit? RYAN: We as a caucus, along with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what it is we want to get out of the debt limit. We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit.) But now Mitch McConnell, too, says he “can’t imagine” passing a clean debt-ceiling hike.

Are the Republicans really going to try this again?

Unlike the last debt-ceiling hostage crisis, which resulted from explicable (though disturbing) internal party dynamics, the prospect of a new round of threats seems bizarre. We tested this threat a couple of months ago. Republicans swore up and down they would refuse to lift the debt ceiling unless they got concessions, and President Obama swore up and down he wouldn’t give concessions.

The result was in no way ambiguous. There were no concessions. Not a future commission, not a show vote, not handwritten letters. Zip. Obama tested the Republican willingness to trigger a worldwide economic meltdown to obtain concessions, and it turned out, they won’t pull the trigger. How on Earth they think they can try this bluff again, I can’t imagine.

Indeed, political conditions for the threat are even less favorable now that the two parties have agreed to a budget. Republicans used to have the substantively crazy but popular-sounding justification that they didn’t want to “write Obama a blank check.” But now the two parties agree on the level of spending this year. Raising the debt limit is needed to authorize the spending Republicans want. (Of course, we could avoid a debt limit hike by jacking up taxes, but obviously they don’t want to do that.)

Clearly, they’re not going to win. The question is why they’re making a threat when Obama knows they can’t carry it out. Why wind up conservative activists for a new fight that’s doomed to failure? Nothing about this threat makes any sense.

Update: In a conservative talk radio interview, Ryan elaborates. Ryan really brings the crazy here:

With respect to the debt limit, you and I and our colleagues are going to have to meet early after the holidays to decide what’s the right course going forward in that. We’ve never just done nothing.

We’ve never just done nothing”? Never? How about, I don’t know, the last time you raised the debt ceiling?

Ryan continues:

We want to make sure that we’re taking steps in the direction of fiscal conservatism, of fiscal responsibility. I, for one, think we need to do more in the energy sector. I believe we need to approve Keystone Pipeline.

So your steps toward fiscal responsibility involve approving a pipeline? A pipeline with no measurable budgetary impact?

Ryan, McConnell Issue Least Frightening Threat