fter House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowed on Tuesday to block an increase in the federal debt ceiling unless Democrats agreed to steep spending cuts, he and other GOP congressional leaders met with their Democratic counterparts and President Obama at the White House. If the hope of the meeting was to head off "a reprise of last year's nasty showdown over raising the federal debt limit," say Reuters' David Lawder and Jeff Mason, things "are not off to a good start." According to his aides, Boehner repeated his threat to Obama. Given the potential political and economic carnage from another standoff, why is Boehner so apparently eager to tee up this fight? Here, five theories:
1. His caucus demands it
Boehner's push for a big debt-ceiling fight "was almost certainly conceived in the same cramped box his unruly conference has kept him in since the first day of his speakership," says Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo. The sizable Tea Party faction of his caucus has never trusted him, and they're "still bloodthirsty" from when he tried to cut a deal with Obama last summer. "If Boehner's fighting for his speakership, this is a way to make a final appeal to the radicals in his party."
2. It reinforces the GOP's election-year pitch
Boehner is pushing the fight now, essentially ensuring it will happen, because the issues the debt ceiling raises — federal spending, the national debt, Obama's fiscal stewardship — "happen to be the issues that [the GOP is] campaigning on," says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. This is also Boehner's only real leverage to keep the Bush-era tax cuts for high earners, set to expire on Dec. 31. He's saying that if "you believe that taxes are a critical tool for putting the budget in balance... we have nothing to talk about," says Gail Collins at The New York Times. So "meet you in November."
3. Boehner thinks Romney will lose
Angling for a post-election fight isn't much of a vote of confidence by Boehner in his party's presidential nominee, says Talking Point Memo's Beutler. Pushing the country to the brink of default is potentially "deadly politics," and if Republicans felt good about the their chances to retake the White House, "why would they want to create a huge, unnecessary mess for Mitt Romney?" My bet: They wouldn't.
4. It's effective...
The only surprise here is that anyone thought Boehner's "2011 debt-ceiling antics were some sort of one-off," says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. Of course he's going to try this again — "it worked so well for him" last time. The GOP got huge, economy-slowing spending cuts, and the standoff "drove President Obama's approval ratings beneath 40 percent." This was such an effective weapon that until somebody pays a price for wielding it, "there's no going back to the time when debt-ceiling increases came smoothly."
5. ...And he paid no real cost for the standoff
There's the rub, says Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. Last summer's brinkmanship was terrible for the federal government, and it wreaked havoc on the approval ratings of both Congress and Obama, but nobody "underwent irreparable harm." Eight months later, it's clear from the polls that "neither side squandered its chances in the 2012 election; each side paid a price, and each has a fair shot at victory this year." So buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy winter.
- Watch The Daily Show mock the NSA and the gamers they're spying on
- 10 things you need to know today: December 10, 2013
- The 10 worst-reviewed movies of 2013
- Americans are wealthier than ever*
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- 5 theories to explain North Korea's big mysterious purge
- How to stick it to the poor: A congressional strategy
- This is the twistiest tongue twister ever, says science
- The secrets of happy families
- 7 enduring lessons from It's a Wonderful Life
Subscribe to the Week