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Why Republicans Are Flirting With Debt Limit Debacle 2.0


Protecting The Bush Tax Cuts

This is a generational imperative for the GOP. The 2001 and 2003 Bush cuts are key to the decades-long conservative goal of redistributing wealth further up the income ladder and rolling back the federal government's role in providing social services. All of the cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of the year, and if President Obama wins in November, he'll have a lot of leverage to demand that the Republicans own up to the results and allow the cuts for high-income earners to expire. Or Obama could let them all expire and then introduce the "Obama tax cuts" on day one of his second administration ... unless the GOP had an ace up its sleeve. If the debt limit needs to be raised in December, the GOP could take it hostage and demand that Democrats renew all the Bush tax cuts, and defuse automatic spending cuts (the so-called "sequester") with cuts to other domestic programs. It's an almost unfathomable threat, but trying, if Obama wins, might be their only hope.

Laying The Groundwork For The Election

In a way, Boehner's redrawn line in the sand suggests Republicans aren't all that confident they'll take the presidency in 2012. After all, why would they want to create a huge, unnecessary mess for Mitt Romney? If they were pretty sure he was going to win, they wouldn't. But in the run-up to the election, it will help clarify for voters what the Republican agenda is: low taxes, deep cuts to domestic spending programs, and a take-no-prisoners approach to achieving it. To this end, Boehner plans to pass a full extension of the Bush tax cuts later this year and blame Dems for their looming expiration.

If they run on this and lose, they'd be testing the limits of democratic accountability to press ahead with the debt-limit strategy anyhow -- especially in a lame duck session. But if they run on it and win then they'll have a fair claim to make dramatic changes to how the federal government collects and spends money.

Boehner's Dilemma

Boehner's big announcement Tuesday was almost certainly conceived in the same cramped box his unruly conference has kept him in since the first day of his speakership. His conservative members are still bloodthirsty, and untrusting of the leadership. He's had countless fights with them blow up in his face over the past year and a half, and they've defected from some of his key, successful initiatives by the dozens. To make matters worse for him, his party is expected to lose House seats in November. If Boehner's fighting for his speakership, this is a way to make a final appeal to the radicals in his party. But it comes at the expense of his vulnerable, more risk-averse members. The irony is that his plan to stave off a leadership fight might ultimately cost him more seats in November.

About The Author


Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at