Banging their heads on the ceiling?
No, it doesn’t make sense to me either. I just wanted to see how it feels to say it. I figure it’s the closest I’ll ever come to being John Boehner for a day.
If you happen to be the actual John Boehner, on the other hand, a sentence like that apparently makes perfect sense. You announce (to a New York audience of business and finance leaders, no less) that you and your fellow Republicans are perfectly willing to vote against raising the federal debt limit—and rip a huge hole in America’s credit standing in the world—unless the Democrats agree to let you rip a multi-trillion-dollar hole in government programs and services instead.
Or as the old National Lampoon cover never quite put it, “If you don’t poison this dog, we’ll shoot this dog.”
It can’t be easy being John Boehner these days. You’re the Speaker of the House of Representatives, which ordinarily isn’t the nation’s worst job. On the other hand, the GOP majority that put you in charge is stocked with newcomers who don’t have much experience in government and, frankly, aren’t all that keen on the concept. For plenty of them, shrinking the whole enterprise to where it’s nothing but tax cuts and an army wouldn’t cost them a single night’s sleep.
Meanwhile, your loyal lieutenants are casting hungry eyes at your chair and your gavel. The Eric Cantors of the world are lining up with the hardest of the hard-liners, happy to strut their budget-slashing purity, and on the prowl for the slightest whiff of compromise.
So you find yourself pulled further and further to the right, even as the debt-ceiling deadline moves closer and closer, and the world’s credit markets get antsier and antsier. You’re used to making deals—it’s what you’ve always done—but your troops don’t want a deal. They want a crusade. And they love the sound of “trillions” on their tongues.
Some sympathy, then, for poor John Boehner.
Or do you buy the alternate reality?
In the alternate reality, John Boehner is having the time of his life, and he’s playing this whole debt-ceiling thing like a violin. The more his troops scream “Cut it down! Shut it down!” the more he can portray himself as the last reasonable man in the room. The last exit ramp on the road to chaos.
“Hey,” he tells the Dems, “I’d love to work something out with you guys. But you see what I’m dealing with, don’t you? You’ve got to give me something I can sell to those yahoos.”
No guarantees, mind you—but another trillion or two would sure make it easier.
Brilliant, if true. Brilliant, that is, if this is all some grand negotiating strategy, some good-cop/bad-cop thing Boehner and Cantor and the rest have worked out ahead of time to squeeze every last dollar out of gullible Democrats.
The danger, of course, is that they start believing their own rhetoric. Start believing that holding the debt ceiling hostage is:
a) a noble cause; and b) no big deal.
And yes, I know that Barack Obama voted against a debt-ceiling increase when he was still in the Senate. I also know that there’s a big difference between a symbolic protest vote by a handful of members and an authentic, bring-the-building-crashing-down vote by an actual majority.
One is theater. The other could be catastrophe.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.