GOP’s Dangerous Debt Limit Demand: A Christmas Tree Of Conservative Goodies

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
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Christmas is coming early for House Republicans.

A draft of the GOP leadership’s proposal to lift the debt ceiling through December 2014 is circulating and it’s the equivalent of a letter to Santa for the party’s base.

The bill, obtained by the National Review, tacks on items including a one-year delay of Obamacare; tax reform in the image of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI); approval of the Keystone pipeline; expanded offshore drilling and other pro-oil and coal energy reforms; increases in military spending coupled with deeper cuts to domestic programs; repealing a fund in the financial regulatory reform bill; means testing for Medicare; repealing the Obamacare prevention and public health fund and medical malpractice reform.

One House GOP leadership aide didn’t deny the contents of the summary but cautioned that it may not be final. The aims, however, reflect the direction the House of Representatives is taking and contains important clues as to how the debate will unfold.

“On the debt limit, we’re going to introduce a plan that ties important spending cuts and pro-growth reforms to a debt limit increase,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). “Now the president says, ‘I’m not going to negotiate.’ Well, I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way.”

Democrats believe the Republican plan is crazy. And President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have repeatedly vowed not to make concessions in order to lift the debt ceiling. But Boehner is in a bind because the debt limit is a very tough vote for conservatives and he needs to dangle all sorts of enticements before them in order to win over most Republicans.

If and when the House passes the GOP debt limit bill, it’ll be sent to the Senate, and Boehner will demand they accept the legislation (a total nonstarter) or come to the table (which would mean caving on their current stance).

The likely scenario is Reid, backed by the White House, will dismiss the legislation and hold firm in their refusal to negotiate, spurring a staring contest with Boehner as the clock ticks to disaster. Democratic leaders intend to marshal the support of the business community and outside stakeholders to pressure Republicans to let the debt limit hostage go. They’d need to stand united, and so far they have been.

The other option would be for the Senate to pass its own “clean” debt limit bill as Boehner folds his arms and demands Obama come to the table. That’ll be a tough vote for many senators and Democratic leaders will need at least six Republicans to break a filibuster. Leadership aides declined to speculate on this until the House passes a bill.

Either way, giving conservative lawmakers the chance to vote for the Christmas tree bill may provide Boehner some cover to eventually succumb to a clean debt limit hike as the country gets closer to the Oct. 17 deadline. Unless Democrats cave, he will face a choice between triggering a global economic meltdown and bringing up a short bill to lift the debt ceiling, which could pass the House with mostly Democratic support.

Boehner dodged a question on Thursday about whether he’s willing to risk an economic crash and credit downgrade if Democrats rebuff his demands.

“We have a spending problem that has to be addressed,” he told reporters.

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