Despite his pose of moderation, President Obama has maintained an obstructionist attitude throughout the debt ceiling crisis. By demanding higher taxes and engaging in class warfare rhetoric, the White House demonstrated that what it wanted was not a solution to the problem of how to raise the debt ceiling but to avoid one. Its apparent goal was to set off a chain of events that would recreate the government shutdown of 1995 with Obama playing President Clinton and House Speaker John Boehner in the role of Newt Gingrich.
Up until this point, the House Republican leadership has managed to avoid playing into Obama’s hands. They have continued to negotiate and to stick to their guns on taxes. But rather than merely stamp their feet, they proposed solutions and made it clear if anyone was going to endanger the country’s credit rating, it was the scaremongering president, not them. But if rebels within the GOP caucus reject Boehner’s current proposal, they will be doing exactly what Obama wants them to do.
Tea Partiers in the House are right to point out that Boehner’s deal isn’t perfect and will enable more spending while not cutting enough entitlements. But as much as an absolute refusal to raise the debt ceiling or countenance another dime of spending may play well in a Republican primary (as Michele Bachmann has been trying to demonstrate), Congress simply cannot allow the debt ceiling deadline to expire. If they do, then they are handing Obama a victory he didn’t earn and wouldn’t have won on his own.
A collapse of Boehner’s current plan would make it clear the Republican party is just not prepared to govern. Since the Democratic alternative proposed by Senator Harry Reid also eschews higher taxes, it’s time for Republicans to realize they have largely won the argument on the debt and to cash their winnings via Boehner’s proposal. If they don’t, the choices will all be bad for the GOP. Either Democrats and moderate Republicans will adopt an alternative debt plan (that conservatives will hate far more than Boehner’s) or there will be no solution at all, and the White House and the Democrats will be able to point to the failure of the GOP to back Boehner as the cause of the catastrophe.
Republicans simply must pass Boehner’s plan and then dare the Democrats to turn it down and shoulder the responsibility for what follows. If House rebels spike the Speaker’s initiative, it will mean Obama will get the government shutdown he wanted all along which will discredit the GOP and make his re-election that much easier.