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Democrats should call the GOP's debt ceiling bluff
Republicans have no leverage, and their threats have no credibility
Dream on, Ryan.
Dream on, Ryan. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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ver since the last debt ceiling fight, Republicans have insisted that the next showdown would be different. Though they came away with zero concessions in October, surely, they said, they could score some policy victories in the future.

"We don't want 'nothing' out of this debt limit," Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in December.

With a deadline to raise the debt ceiling approaching this Friday (though Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has said he can manage until the end of February), House Republicans are indeed talking about what they'd like in exchange for upping the nation's borrowing limit. However, their internal talks aren't going so well.

The GOP's two leading ideas for handling the debt ceiling — tying it to a provision mandating the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, or one tweaking ObamaCare — fell apart Wednesday due to a lack of Republican support. Both would have included a one-year extension of the debt ceiling.

More from The Washington Post's Robert Costa:

Both ideas were debated at a conference meeting and members expected the conference to coalesce around one of the plans by later this week.

That playbook soon fizzled, however, once GOP leadership aides fanned out throughout the Capitol to take the temperature of members about the plans. Instead of finding growing support, they found unease and complaints, with myriad concerns raised by the House's right flank. [Washington Post]

Sound familiar?

It should. Republicans folded twice last year on their debt ceiling demands after realizing that threats to plunge the nation into potential financial chaos aren't too popular with voters.

Just a few months ago, Republicans entered the debt ceiling and government funding talks with a fantastical list of demands. The ask rapidly shrank, though, when Democrats refused to budge. Yet House leadership, fearful of angering the party's right wing, refused to give in either.

The plan backfired, and Republicans came away with nothing except historically low poll numbers:

For Republicans to think they have any more leverage now is just delusional.

President Obama has insisted that Congress send him a clean debt ceiling bill, meaning one free of any extraneous provisions. Public opinion is on his side. A recent CNN survey found that 54 percent of Americans would blame the GOP if the debt ceiling isn't raised. Only 29 percent would blame Obama.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) reportedly has a Plan B in the works that would swap the debt ceiling hike for the restoration of some military benefits. Yet there is no guarantee the plan could overcome the objections on the right, since it would technically raise spending, something anathema to Tea Partiers. And even if it were to somehow get the support of a majority of the GOP caucus, House Democrats reaffirmed Wednesday that they wouldn't bargain, period.

The whole standoff is reminiscent of Rep. Marlin Stutzman's (R-Ind.) oblivious remark about the debt ceiling standoff back in October: "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is." Republicans want something, anything, in exchange for a debt ceiling vote, but they can't even settle on what that something might be.

The bottom line is that since Republicans caved in the past, there's there's no reason to believe they won't cave again. Boehner himself admitted earlier this week that "there's no sense picking a fight we can't win."

The GOP can't win. Democrats should call that bluff and not even give them a fig leaf.

Jon Terbush is a staff writer for TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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