Report: Boehner told group of House Republicans he'll violate the Hastert Rule to raise the debt ceiling if necessary

Big news — unless, of course, it’s disinformation, which I doubt.

With attention shifting to potential consequences of not increasing the debt limit, one House Republican said Thursday that Speaker John A. Boehner had told colleagues in a meeting that he was determined to prevent a federal default and was willing to pass a measure through a combination of Republican and Democratic votes.

The lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Boehner had said he would be willing to violate the so-called Hastert Rule if necessary to pass a debt limit increase. The informal rule refers to a policy of not bringing to the floor any measure that does not have a majority of Republican votes.

Other Republicans also said Thursday that they got the sense that Mr. Boehner would do whatever was necessary to ensure that the country did not default on its debt.

Representative Leonard Lance of New Jersey, one of the moderate Republicans who met privately with Mr. Boehner on Wednesday, would not provide details of the meeting, but said, “The speaker of the House does not want to default on the debt on the United States, and I believe he believes in Congress as an institution, and I certainly believe he is working for the best interests of the American people.”

Could be that some random Republican in the House is worried about Boehner caving and concocted this story for reporters in hopes that there’ll be an uproar on the right over it and Boehner will get nervous. Or, could be that someone in leadership concocted it to calm markets that are jittery after Obama’s “time to freak out” CNBC interview yesterday. Note, though, that the NYT claims to have several sources who have similar impressions about his intentions. And for what little it’s worth, this is precisely what I’d expect him to do if we reach the debt-ceiling deadline on October 16th without a deal. You’d need to have an unusually committed ideological warrior in charge for the House to stand firm as Treasury hits the ceiling, with media air-raid sirens about default blaring in the background. Boehner’s not that guy. After decades in the House, his legacy as Speaker will not be “he played chicken with the prospect of a global economic meltdown.” That’s what Lance is getting at in the excerpt with that telling bit about Boehner believing in Congress “as an institution.” (I recall similar things being said about John Roberts vis-a-vis the legitimacy of the Court before the big ruling on the mandate last year, and you know how that turned out.) I’d go so far as to bet that he’d agree to a clean debt-ceiling hike at the last minute even if he had every reason to believe that it would cost him his Speakership.

And of course, Obama would bet the same way. That’s what yesterday’s tank-the-market soundbite was about, using a quickie downturn based on the president’s pessimism about a deal to give centrist Republicans like Boehner and McConnell a taste of what could happen if they follow tea partiers to the brink. Hasn’t worked especially well — the Dow’s down “only” 100 points as I write this — but debt-ceiling hysteria is showing up in other places:


Market panic isn’t O’s only weapon. In his speech this morning, he warned seniors (a sizable chunk of the GOP’s base) that Social Security checks won’t go out on time if we hit the debt ceiling. And of course the polls are as reliably grim about the ceiling as they are about a shutdown: Yesterday, CNN found that 56 percent think it’d be a bad thing if the ceiling wasn’t raised while 64 percent oppose using the ceiling as leverage to defund ObamaCare specifically. When asked which side they’d blame if the debt limit was reached, 53 percent say congressional Republicans versus just 31 percent who say Obama. Boehner surely has 20 centrist House GOPers willing to vote with Democrats for a clean debt-ceiling hike; even a clean CR to end the much less significant government shutdown seems to be growing more popular in the caucus. The only obstacle to passing one is his own personal reluctance to face the political consequences from the right of bringing that hike to the floor. Show of hands: Who thinks that’ll stop him after two more weeks of tremendous pressure from the center and the left?

Exit quotation from, er, Denny Hastert: “The Hastert Rule never really existed.”

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