Granted, it’s just an aide, but it’s an aide’s job to know what his boss and the other bosses in the Senate are thinking.
One of the lingering questions in Boehner’s offer earlier this afternoon would be whether he’d attach conditions, like spending cuts, to the debt-ceiling hike he’s proposed or whether it would be clean. Answer: Clean, in all likelihood. Heritage Action, the conservative PAC that’s been backing Cruz, Lee, and other tea partiers in the “defund ObamaCare” effort, said this afternoon that they won’t hold a vote for a clean debt-ceiling hike against any Republicans. You already know why if you read this post; it’s because they want to stay focused on O-Care, and right now the debt-ceiling fight is more of a hindrance to that than a help.
Until about 18 hours ago, it had been Republican orthodoxy on Capitol Hill to oppose any raising of the debt limit that did not also include provisions for spending restraint or some other form of fiscal discipline. The whole point of the 2011 debt limit negotiations — the talks that led to sequestration spending cuts — was to strengthen the precedent for requiring spending controls as part of any debt limit agreement…
“This is an idea that nobody would have associated with Republicans yesterday,” says a Senate GOP aide. “There isn’t a Republican in Congress who supported the idea of a clean debt limit increase without strings attached before yesterday.” Perhaps that’s an exaggeration — maybe there were a very few who would have supported such an idea — but the aide’s observations are generally accurate. They’re certainly true of some of the most influential Republicans in the Senate.
The aide pointed to the relatively small group of House lawmakers and outside groups who are most committed to targeting Obamacare, even at the price of a partial government shutdown. “It’s pretty obvious they are so invested in the shutdown strategy that they are willing to have an overnight conversion to the view that clean debt limit increases are somehow good policy,” the aide says. “That is heresy for a conservative, and yet they are swallowing it because they are so invested in this shutdown strategy working.”
The strategic somersaults through all of this can be confusing but the basic idea is simple. Two years ago, thanks to recession-era deficits and Paul Ryan’s prominence, reducing the debt was priority number one. Two years later, thanks to the rollout of the health-care exchanges and the emergence of Ted Cruz, stopping ObamaCare is priority number one. Lord knows those two priorities aren’t mutually exclusive, as Paul Ryan noted yesterday after he was attacked for pivoting back to entitlement reform instead of staying focused on O-Care, but tactically tea partiers are willing to cede ground on the former if it means strengthening their hand on the latter. Question, though: Does this strengthen their hand? One of the reasons Ryan gave yesterday when asked why he’d revert to deficit reduction now is because, quite simply, that’s where the action is. As unlikely as a grand (or less than grand) bargain is, it’s still likelier than Obama giving up crucial pieces of ObamaCare. If you want to accomplish something policy-wise from all this, you’re better off trying on tax reform or chained CPI — even though the latter would place the shutdown on a far less popular foot politically than fighting ObamaCare would.
Reid said this afternoon that, regardless of Boehner’s concession on the debt ceiling, there’ll be no negotiations on anything until the shutdown is over. A spokesman for Boehner, meanwhile, says there’s no chance he’ll pass a clean CR that’ll end the shutdown. So on we go. Like I said in the last post, I’m not sure why the “defund” caucus thinks a short-term debt-ceiling hike will force Boehner to negotiate the shutdown and debt ceiling separately, with shutdown discussions reserved exclusively for O-Care. It might create a little extra pressure, but if he decides it’s time to cave on the shutdown, he’ll almost certainly negotiate a longer debt-ceiling hike as part of it. After all, why cave twice when you can cave once? The only thing that could get him to really double down on O-Care, I think, is if the Healthcare.gov rollout somehow turns even more catastrophic than it’s been, with the political humiliation and risk of disaffection among the uninsured so great that Obama decides he has no choice but to delay the law for awhile. Hard to imagine how bad things would have to get to make him do that, but that’s the deus ex machina here if you’re looking for one.
Update: Carney says Obama will indeed sign a debt-ceiling hike even if the shutdown is still on. Your move, Dingy Harry.