GOP Pitch Their Debt Limit Plan to Themselves

Their fear of helping Obama is weighing against their fear of economic catastrophe

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The Republican establishment first argument to conservative lawmakers for raising the federal debt ceiling--raise it or destroy the economy--isn't working. So now The Wall Street Journal editorial page (along with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol) is framing their choice in starker terms: "The question now is whether House Republicans are going to help Mr. Boehner achieve significant progress, or, in the name of the unachievable, hand Mr. Obama a victory." House Speaker John Boehner has pushed back a vote on his debt limit plan--disliked by both Tea Partiers and Democrats--till Thursday, allowing time to tweak the bill after the Congressional Budget Office said it would cut the budget deficit by $150 billion less than Boehner promised.

Kristol and The Journal join former Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson (also a Law & Order star, so he must know something about theatrics) in urging House Republicans to just declare victory on the debt debate and move on. "I respectfully suggest that you rake in your chips, stuff them in your pockets, and tell the dealer to deal the next hand," Thompson writes in the National Review. Thus far, however, those Republicans have respectfully declined to do so.
The Washington Post's Felicia Somnez reports that of the 22 Republicans Boehner can afford to lose and still pass his plan without Democrats, he's already lost 10. Ten more may lean no. One of those lawmakers is Rep. Michele Bachmann, who declared she couldn't vote for Boehner's plan from the campaign trail. According to O.Kay Henderson, in Iowa, Bachmann told reporters, "I encourage all of my colleagues in both the House and Senate as well as the president the to listen to what the American people are saying... 'Don’t raise the debt ceiling.' I hear that at every stop I'm at."
The good citizens of Iowa have a different view of things than the good citizens of northwest Arkansas, which Steve Womack represents. He told The New York TimesJennifer Steinhauer and Carl Hulse, "I have had phone calls from constituents all across the Third District suggesting we raise taxes." But that doesn't mean he's voting for a compromise deal. "But this economy is too fragile," Womack said.
While Boehner is struggling to unite House Republicans, The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports that Democrats are trying to drive a wedge between the speaker and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Though McConnell has backed Boehner's plan, "many on Capitol Hill believe McConnell, not Boehner, will soon be calling the shots for the GOP. Congressional officials contend McConnell is key to any deal, noting that the Kentucky Republican has been insistent on meeting the Aug. 2 deadline for getting a deal done." (McConnell was the first to float a "contingency plan" in case negotiations for a "grand bargain" fell apart.) Bolton says there's "speculation" that McConnell will cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, then force Boehner to push it through the House.
But Slate's Dave Weigel says the delayed vote on Boehner's plan is actually a good thing, because it "will give Boehner more time to round up votes. ... If this moves even three votes, it might be enough." And if neither Boehner or Reid's plan can pass Congress, Obama might sign a 10-day debt extension, First Read reports. Problem solved, right? Maybe not. Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown and Ben White report that even if the U.S. avoids defaul, it still might get a credit downgrade.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.