Boehner on Obama official's "we're winning" quote: "This isn't some damn game!"

Democrats held a presser yesterday pounding GOP Rep. Marlin Stutzman for his own rhetorical air biscuit, so now here’s Boehner repaying the kindness by seizing on today’s White House Kinsleyan gaffe. (The “Let’s Talk” hashtag in the background is straight out of Rand Paul’s playbook of framing the GOP as the reasonable, dialogue-happy counterpart to obstinate Dems.) Just one question: Isn’t this sort of a game at this point? There’s no consensus even within the GOP about what the endgame might look like or what they should be demanding at this point in exchange for a debt-ceiling hike. (Which, actually, was Stutzman’s whole point.) Here’s Byron York writing two days ago about a shutdown adrift:

As the shutdown took hold, the House GOP leadership changed course from trying to limit Obamacare to an effort to mitigate the effects of the shutdown. Boehner and his colleagues came up with bills that would fund the National Park Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, the Holocaust Museum, and the District of Columbia government. The bills were considered under special rules, which in the end meant that House Democrats were able to kill them — before Senate Democrats could kill them…

Sometimes fights become so intense and so tangled that the original cause becomes obscured. In the government funding battle, the issue that sparked it all, Obamacare, was no longer center stage less than 24 hours after the shutdown began. The fight is now about the shutdown itself, and Obamacare has been pushed to the side.

One Republican senator told the NYT that the most recent caucus meeting was a virtual “lynch mob” against Ted Cruz, with Cruz calling his critics defeatists but otherwise offering no way forward. Meanwhile, in the House, Boehner has essentially three options: (1) Throw in the towel by passing a clean CR/debt-ceiling hike with Democratic votes, which probably means he’s done as Speaker; (2) put together some sort of “grand bargain,” which has proved impossible even when Democrats had less leverage than they do now; or (3) extract some face-saving “pound of flesh” and call it a day. Ryan Lizza:

2. Boehner’s next option is what some Republicans described to me as the “pound of flesh” plan. Perhaps there is some small, preferably Obamacare-related, policy concession that the White House and Harry Reid would trade in exchange for opening the government. There was some movement on this front yesterday, as a few Democrats and Republicans announced a bill that would combine a C.R. with a repeal of the medical-device tax, which is not popular with Democrats, especially Senators in red states, and which is not a lynchpin of Obamacare.

But this may be the worst of both worlds. It would violate Obama’s pledge not to negotiate under threat of a shutdown, and it might not be a big enough trophy for Boehner to mollify his right flank.

Having said that, as the shutdown drags on, and as the political pain increases for Republicans, and perhaps for Obama as well, the search for a mutually agreeable pound of flesh may grow more intense.

Repealing the medical-device tax wouldn’t be a pound of flesh, it’d be an ounce. The Senate voted 79-20 back in March to repeal the tax as part of a nonbinding budget resolution; if the result of all this shutdown sturm and debt-ceiling drang is only to force the end of a minor ObamaCare provision that Democrats have already voted to end once before, it’d be as humiliating as passing a clean CR. As Stutzman put it, bluntly showcasing the face-saving calculus at this point, “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this.” The medical-device tax barely qualifies as “something.”

Anyway, all (or most) of this was foreseeable. That’s the irony of the quote that has the White House in trouble this morning: Of course they wanted a shutdown. Of course they’d see it as a game that they could win for political advantage. That’s why so many RINOs urged Boehner not to let things get to this point. Exit question: Is it true, as Conn Carroll argues, that Boehner and House Republicans will never cave on the debt ceiling because to do so means “the debt limit will be dead forever as a functional tool to limit executive power and control federal spending”? If anything, that seems like it’d be a feature, not a bug, for centrist Republicans: The only thing more torturous than having to play chicken with the debt limit this time is the prospect of having to play it again and again and again as we approach the limit again in years to come? If they’re going to cave and eat mountains of crap from tea partiers, they might as well cave big by passing some sort of bill (Ramesh Ponnuru suggests one here) that would avert confrontations like this in the future.

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