Hoist By Their Own Petard

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My debt limit nightmare scenario goes something like this: Nothing of any substance happens for the next month or so. Then, a few days before the government’s borrowing authority lapses, House Republicans pass legislation pairing deep spending cuts — some specific, some asterisked — with a debt limit increase. The Senate, gridlocked by filibuster, can’t pass a clean debt limit bill, so instead they pass nothing. Republicans skip town claiming they’ve done their job, leaving Democrats to choose between surrender and economic havoc.

Republicans used the same trick (or tried to) repeatedly in 2011 and 2012 as a negotiating tactic. But if Democrats are serious about not negotiating for a debt limit increase, then the “tactic” amounts to lighting a very short fuse and running for the hills.

But thanks to Karl Rove I’m beginning to doubt Republicans can get it together enough to pull this off.He calls on House Republicans to adopt this strategy, but is anything other than confident they can execute it.

House Republicans must pass a measure pairing specific spending cuts with a debt-ceiling increase that will have few, if any, Democratic votes. It would therefore be tactically wise for Republicans to draw many of these cuts from the recommendations of Mr. Obama’s own National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (aka Simpson-Bowles)….

Passing such a measure will require the GOP to accept less than total repeal of the Obama agenda, vote for spending cuts smaller than what they want, and support a debt increase all Republicans wish were not necessary. Republicans voting against a GOP plan because it’s not perfect would just be aiding and abetting Mr. Obama.

Rove can see how this all falls apart. He knows this will be a heavy, heavy lift for Republicans, which is why he’s readying them well in advance and warning that “voting against a GOP plan because it’s not perfect would just be aiding and abetting Mr. Obama.”

As easy as it is to imagine House Republicans passing a debt limit bill that chains CPI and cuts Medicare here and there, it’s just as easy to imagine that the same hardliners who spoiled the GOP’s negotiating positions in the payroll tax cut and the fiscal cliff fights will draw a line at Cut Cap and Balance. Or that a median Republican won’t want to go on the record voting simultaneously for both a debt limit increase and specific entitlement cuts without Democratic cover.

John Boehner will have a small margin for error. And if he misses, it will leave him more or less where he was after his fiscal cliff Plan B fell apart, and he’d be the one forced to choose between surrender and economic havoc.

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 brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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