SHOCKER: It Was All A Bluff

Looks like the House is moving forward with their own bill this morning. Here are the details, from Robert Costa:

  • Continuing Resolution until 1/15
  • Debt Ceiling increase until 2/7
  • Vitter Amendment for members and cabinet members
  • Two-year medical device tax delay
  • Income verification
  • Ban on the use of extraordinary measures

That’s it. Nothing that really undermines Obamacare and no risk of heading over the debt limit. It’s still unclear if this can pass the House. It will likely get little, if any, Democratic support and many House conservatives are not going to be happy. In addition there isn’t anything that Senate Democrats will like so I’m sure they will reject it. I imagine Boehner may still have to break the Hastert Rule in the end with a bill somewhere in between what currently exists in the Senate and this one.

But look at how far the House has come! Boehner was never going to allow us to default. That’s abundantly clear now. In addition, he watered down the Vitter Amendment at the last second because he knew all along how awful it would be for congressional aides. It’s what everyone has been clamoring about for weeks. The House GOP finally admitted it at the last second. As for income verification, this is already part of the law and a number of conservatives have already rejected it as meaningless. A ban on extraordinary measures is a minor concession (and something I support).

That’s what House leadership is now PROPOSING. That’s their offer for opening the government and raising the debt ceiling. In addition, it seems that House Republicans are relatively unified behind this plan (Robert Costa reporting that there won’t be a revolt). We’ll see if that holds true in the end, but it’s important to realize how far the House GOP has come in their demands. They said all along they were willing to breach the debt ceiling if Obamacare wasn’t stopped. Instead, they’re accepting a corporate tax delay, a benefit cut for members, enforcing a part of Obamacare that already exists and a ban on a technical method to extend the debt ceiling. It confirms they were bluffing the entire time.

Would Democrats Support a Six-Month Clean CR?

It seems like we are slowly inching towards a compromise between Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has issued a new offer that includes a nine-month debt ceiling hike, a six-week clean continuing resolution, a delay of the medical device tax, greater income verification for Obamacare subsidies, a formal budget process and a yet-to-be-decided Republican concession. It’s unclear what that concession will be. But if you take the Democrat’s position that they will not negotiate over the debt ceiling or a clean CR, here’s what the deal looks like from their perspective:

Republicans get:                                                           Democrats Get:

  • Delay of medical device tax                                        •  Unknown Concession
  • Greater income verification
  • Formal budget process

The clean CR and debt ceiling increase are not part of the deal as they were never negotiated upon (although Republicans can return to their constituents and say they broke Obama’s promise not to negotiate on the debt ceiling, even if it isn’t actually true). John Boehner will break the Hastert Rule and allow something like this to pass, because he knows we can’t default. That’s how Democrats envision the final deal, at the moment.

But Republicans are upset. They think that Democrats are moving the goal posts on them by demanding a six-week, instead of a six-month, CR. Here’s Sen. Lindsey Graham:

You can blame us, we’ve overplayed our hand, that’s for damn sure. But their response, where the president and [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] basically shutting everybody out, and when you try to negotiate, they keep changing the terms of the deal … it’s very frustrating.

So, what terms of the deal does Graham think Democrats changed? He doesn’t specify, but I think this all comes down to what Democrats thought they meant when they said they wanted a clean CR. They meant a CR that lasted six-weeks, or at least they are saying that’s what they meant. Republicans think Democrats meant that they would support a clean CR for any period of time. This is how Reid’s offer looks to them:

Republicans get:                                                           Democrats Get:

  • Delay of medical device tax                                       •  Six-week clean CR
  • Greater income verification                                        •  Unknown Concession
  • Formal budget process

This is the main sticking point right now. Republicans see the six-month CR as something Democrats said they would agree to by itself. Thus, the six-week continuing resolution is a concession for them. Meanwhile, Democrats see the opposite. The six-month clean CR would be a concession. When Democrats originally were calling for Republicans to open government, they didn’t say for how long. The House continually passed bills for six-week CRs that had absurd conditions on them. Democrats may have assumed that any CR would last for six weeks – but they never said so publicly (at least that I can find). Instead, they hammered the Republicans by telling them to pass a clean CR and reopen government, without any time horizon on those demands. Republicans want that clean CR to last six-months to lock in sequestration for longer. Democrats, of course, don’t.

There’s an easy way to figure out what Democrats would accept: Boehner could bring up a clean six-month CR in the House. Would Senate Democrats reject it? If so, it would contradict everything they have said about wanting Republicans to pass a clean CR. If they passed it, it would lock-in the cuts, a current goal of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Unfortunately for him, Boehner won’t bring such a bill to the floor due to the internal political dynamics of House Republicans.

Instead, McConnell has limited power to achieve a six-month CR. Americans overwhelmingly blame Republicans for the shutdown and the October 17 debt ceiling deadline is a few days away. He must make a deal and has limited leverage to do so. Meanwhile, Harry Reid truly believes that a six-month CR is not what Democrats meant when they said they’d support a clean CR. If he agreed to a deal with a six-month CR instead of a six-week one, this is how it would look to him and Senate Democrats:

Republicans get:                                                           Democrats Get:

  • Six-month clean CR                                                      •  Unknown Concession
  • Delay of medical device tax
  • Greater income verification
  • Formal budget process

That’s not acceptable to them. That’s the impasse we’re at now. It has nothing to do with Obamacare. Instead, it’s all about how long the clean CR should be and what Democrats meant when they said they wanted a clean CR. And the only person who can force Democrats to answer that question has his hands tied by extremists in his caucus. All as the clock slowly ticks towards a self-inflicted financial crisis.

Did the Government Shutdown Stop Us From Defaulting?

Ezra Klein thinks so:

But whatever the endgame, the fight now is over a government shutdown. That’s bad. But it’s not nearly as bad as a fight over the debt ceiling. It’s evidence of how far into dysfunction American politics has fallen that this can or should be said, but thank God for the government shutdown. It might just have saved the country.

Hmm I’m not so convinced.

Here’s what the odds of a default would’ve been without a government shutdown: 0%.
And here’s what they are with a government shutdown: 0%.

I’ve held this view for a while. Under no circumstance would Boehner allow us to breach the debt ceiling. It helps his negotiating position to try to convince journalists that he is crazy enough to breach it, but when push comes to shove, Boehner understands the catastrophic consequences of a default. He also understands that he single-handedly has the power to stop us from defaulting. History would not look on him kindly if he had that power and chose not to exercise it.

That doesn’t mean the government shutdown didn’t help him out. On the contrary, Klein is exactly right that it gave the Tea Party a chance to vent their anger. Thus, it gave Boehner political cover. He can choose to fight on the government shutdown instead of the debt ceiling. But don’t think that means that the government shutdown actually helped prevent a default. Boehner was always going to raise the debt ceiling.