With a government shutdown seeming less likely, Republicans in the House are now considering moving the fight over ObamaCare to the next big fiscal deadline cum economic calamity-in-waiting: The debt ceiling.
However, concessions on ObamaCare are the least of the GOP's demands in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Republicans are reportedly packing their debt limit bill with a whole raft of pet priorities, setting up an even more fractious fight over a vote that, should it fail, could have dangerous economic repercussions.
In addition to delaying implementation of the health-care law for one year, the bill would establish a timetable for tax reform, squeeze $120 billion from federal health programs over the next decade — in part by tightening medical malpractice laws — and cut federal civil service pensions.
The measure also would approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and advance other GOP economic goals, including increasing offshore oil drilling, blocking federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, and restricting most forms of federal industry regulation.
About the only major piece of the Republican agenda missing from the bill is a ban on late-term abortions — and some lawmakers who oppose abortion were arguing to add that, GOP aides said. [Washington Post]
"Does that list sound vaguely familiar?" asks Jonathan Chait at New York. "It's Mitt Romney's 2012 econonic plan."
(National Review obtained a draft copy of the demands, which you can find here.)
In addition to pretending that a majority of voters did not re-elect President Obama, Republicans have put forth "an opening bid that makes them look ridiculous," write the Washington Post's Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas.
"This looks like an Onion parody of what the House's debt-ceiling demands might be," they add. "It's a wonder it's not written in comic sans."
It's surprising, too, says The Atlantic's Derek Thompson, that the GOP didn't also ask for "free ice cream, a lifetime pass to Disneyland, and a bill to rename the capitol 'The Reagan Dome.'"
It's the latest evidence that the House GOP is using the debt ceiling, as well as the threat of an economic meltdown, to win political victories that have nothing to do with the budget or government spending. Indeed, raising the debt ceiling won't affect federal spending one bit, which has led many prominent economists, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke among them, to suggest abolishing it entirely.
It's unimaginable that Republicans will get even a fraction of what they want in the end. But in putting forward such a bold opening salvo, Republican leaders appear to be anticipating the blowback they will receive for losing the fight over ObamaCare and the budget.
The Senate is expected to pass a House-approved budget bill, called a continuing resolution, on Saturday after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) strips out a provision that would defund ObamaCare. That would give House Republicans only two days to also pass the measure before the fiscal clocks winds down, or send the resolution back to the Senate with more strings attached. The latter option would delay the process and almost certainly trigger a government shutdown.
The GOP is apparently ready to concede defeat on that fight — even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has advocated expediting the process — leaving Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership team empty-handed. That's where the debt ceiling comes in: It appeases the Tea Party by essentially allowing the fight to go on.
The difference is that the fight just got a lot bigger, and will be waged on far more perilous territory.