Back in the halcyon days of the Tea Party, conservatives realized that the debt ceiling gave them big leverage on the president to force spending cuts. They would threaten the full faith and credit of the United States, Obama would cave to avoid default, and the result would be a major spending reduction in return for raising the debt limit. Critics of the strategy argued it was immoral and dangerous to prevent the government from paying debts it had already rung up in exchange for future spending cuts, but both were clearly related to federal spending. But it was clever -- and it worked, in the form of the sequester.
That was then, this is now. The Tea Party is less popular than ever, And while the debt ceiling remains a negotiating chit for the GOP, Republicans leaders are hardly even pretending that this is about spending anymore. Now, as Jonathan Chait points out, they're just asking for the implementation of Mitt Romney's domestic agenda.
Consider the list of demands House leaders have issued in exchange for raising the debt ceiling -- or really, just suspending it -- which Derek Thompson called "insane" this morning. The big items are, in order: a one-year Obamacare delay; tax reform according to Paul Ryan's budget; and energy reforms that include approving the Keystone XL pipeline and eliminating almost every major White House environmental regulation. Coming in the last two slots are spending reforms and a few health-spending tweaks.