As any parent knows, when your children are young, you have one distinct advantage over them: you're smarter than they are. It won't be that way forever, but if it comes down to an argument, using words, with a six-year-old, you're probably going to win. Faced with this disadvantage, children often resort to things like repeating the thing they've already said a hundred more times, or stomping their feet. Which brings us, of course, to the House Republicans.
This morning, Politico has a classic Politico story about the struggle between the beleagured Speaker John Boehner, who would prefer that the country not default on its debts, and the maniacs who make up his caucus, many of whom seem to have been reduced to chanting "Burn it down! Burn it down!" whenever the subject of the United States government comes up. I say it's a classic Politico story because it contains a lot of anonymous quotes, on-the-record quotes the authors don't consider might be tactical and not sincere, and finally an utter lack of concern with the real-world consequences of any of the rather catastrophic events being discussed.
But back to the children stomping their feet. Two quotes from the piece stuck out for me. First, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the House Republican Caucus, says, "I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we're serious." Then later in the article, Chris Chocola, a former congressman now leading the conservative Club for Growth, says, when asked about default, "What's more irresponsible: continuing on this path to fiscal ruin, or changing the path? There is a high level of frustration, and a willingness to do something dramatic. They think this is the only way to get Obama's attention."
Just to clarify, we're talking about two different things here, both of which are very bad. The first is default rising from a refusal to raise the debt ceiling, which means the government not paying its bills on the spending Congress has already mandated. That could happen at the end of February. The second is a government shutdown, resulting from Congress refusing to pass a budget or a continuing resolution (which just keeps programs at their current level). That could happen at the end of March. According to the Politico piece, half the House Republicans want to default, while even more want a government shutdown. But that assessment is based on the word of unnamed "GOP officials," so we have no idea whether it's accurate. But the point is, Republicans actually say they'll intentionally throw a monkey wrench into the American economy so President Obama knows they're serious. Seriously.
I think by now all of us, including President Obama, know that these people are serious. But when they say "serious," they don't actually mean that they want to seriously confront the nation's problems without getting distracted by trivial concerns. That's not the kind of serious they're talking about. When they say they're serious and they want Obama's attention, they mean it in the way that a suicide bomber is serious and wants attention.
Now it could be that this is just gamesmanship, and they're making these public threats to get a better bargain. But I don't think so. These people don't bargain. And there are enough of them in the House that in the end there are really only two choices: either Boehner does what he just did with taxes and allows a vote to raise the debt ceiling and continue funding the government that passes with mostly Democratic support (something he has promised his caucus he won't do), or we head to disaster.