Gas On The Debt Limit Fire

Lest you conclude that progress in fiscal cliff negotiations is symptomatic of a weakened conservative appetite for taking the debt limit hostage, allow me to dissuade you. The truth is quite different.

See, for starters, the Club for Growth’s reaction to John Boehner’s latest budget offer. The nub of it is pretty straightforward: They don’t want Boehner to raise the debt limit, even temporarily. They’re still pushing a 2011 redux.Last week, before negotiators tipped off the press to a breakthrough in budget talks, Steve Dennis of Roll Call quoted Chris Chocola, the current president of the Club for Growth, and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), the former president of the Club for Growth, setting wild expectations for the new year.

Chocola: “I hope their [Republican] backs are very stiff. They seem to be focused on it, and that’s kind of the leverage they have.”

Toomey: “Is a temporary disruption worse than a full-blown debt crisis?”

Chocola compared a 2013 debt limit fight to Nancy Pelosi’s push to enact health care reform, heedless of the fact that Pelosi had just won a landslide election, and Republicans have just lost one.

But the Club has a lot of juice. Its rejection of Boehner’s latest offer is a big problem for negotiators, because it means Boehner can’t really give much more, even though what he’s offered up so far isn’t enough for Obama.

Even if deep down John Boehner wants to avoid another debt limit fight, or doesn’t think it’s winnable this time around, he’s so constrained by the right that he only felt able to offer Obama a year-long reprieve from that particular brinksmanship. Preventing it altogether will require the kind of willingness to shut down the right that Boehner’s never exhibited as speaker.