Republicans Trying to Be as Unpopular as Humanly Possible

With the July 4 holiday behind them, House members might be expected to take up work on the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. But they won’t. They’re looking at piecemeal reforms that will be heavier on border enforcement than the Senate bill – which doubled the number of border control agents, after the border control budget already doubled in size in the last decade — and even nuttier ideas.

Instead the House GOP is apparently making big plans for another debt ceiling hostage-taking, and this time they’ve got a strategy to demand big budget cuts from President Obama and the Democrats. According to the National Journal, House leaders are working on a “menu” of budget-slashing offers to Obama in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling for a short, medium or long period of time. Their template is Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget – the budget so unjust and biased against the poor that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops took time out from restricting women’s rights to criticize the Ryan plan.

House members reluctantly voted to raise the debt ceiling in January promising to come back with a strengthened hand on behalf of budget cuts next time around (which will probably be the end of this year). So House Speaker John Boehner is reportedly meeting with Ryan and other conservatives like Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, who boasted about their talks to the National Journal. The key points:

For a long-term deal, one that gives Treasury borrowing authority for three-and-a-half years, Obama would have to agree to premium support. The plan to privatize Medicare, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Ryan budget, is the holy grail for conservatives who say major deficit-reduction can only be achieved by making this type of cut to mandatory spending. “If the president wants to go big, there’s a big idea,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

For a medium-sized increase in the debt-limit, Republicans want Obama to agree to cut spending in the SNAP food stamp program, block-grant Medicaid, or tinker with chained CPI.

For a smaller increase, there is talk of means-testing Social Security, for example, or ending certain agricultural subsidies.

…Even at the smallest end of the spectrum — another months-long extension of debt-limit — there is talk of pushing back the eligibility age for Social Security by an equal number of months.

Are these people on drugs? These are wildly unpopular ideas that have no chance of passing the Senate. (“Republicans are eager to look like they are giving the White House plenty of options, convinced that it is in their interest to appear engaged and flexible at the negotiating table,” the NJ’s Tim Alberta reports, apparently unironically.) Unfortunately, the president himself has come out behind the chained CPI, but given the enormity of House GOP demands and delusion, he’s unlikely to get much for that concession. So one cheer for House GOP delusion.

Scalise seems to be the main source for the National Journal story, and you can imagine other members wincing at his clueless bluster. Not surprisingly, Scalise starred in another story today about the Obama team’s belief it will see some congressional movement on both immigration reform and the economy this summer. Not so fast, Scalise told the Washington Post: “We’re going to continue to be very aggressive in serving as a check and balance against the Obama administration. That’s what the country said in November. We’re very far apart.”

It’s interesting to note that Paul Ryan is key to these debt-ceiling strategy talks, according to the National Journal, when he’s also supposed to be key to comprehensive immigration reform. To his credit, Ryan has come out for something along the lines of the Senate bill, but the question is whether he’ll expend any political capital getting other members to join him. So far, he hasn’t. It looks like another round of debt-ceiling hostage taking is a higher priority for him.

Ironically the fact that the deficit is falling faster than at any time since World War II is helping driving the House GOP’s extremism – they have to go for big, slashing cuts, because the deficit is already shrinking.  Here’s hoping the extremism of the House GOP’s opening salvo will remind the Obama administration not to waste its time on another attempt at a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction.


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