Feature

John Boehner's new debt ceiling offer: It's a trap

Boehner asks for a six-week punt on the debt ceiling — and on confronting his party's base

Ten days into the government shutdown, and with the deadline to raise the debt ceiling one week away, House Republicans say they are ready to make a deal — sort of.

Under the latest plan, Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) and company are proposing a six-week hike in the debt ceiling in exchange for the promise of future budget negotiations. In a press conference Thursday morning, Boehner called the proposal a "good faith effort on our part to move halfway to what [President Obama] has demanded."

Except the supposed olive branch does not involve a temporary funding measure, known as a continuing resolution, that would reopen the government.

The White House is reportedly open to the idea of a short-term debt ceiling fix — but only if the GOP first agrees to reopen the government, no strings attached. "Once Republicans in Congress act to remove the threat of default and end this harmful government shutdown the president will be willing to negotiate on a broader budget agreement," a White House official said in a statement.

It's pretty clear why Boehner split the debt ceiling from the shutdown. Here's Jonathan Chait at New York:

Business is freaked out and will be furious with him if he triggers a default. So he’s raising the debt ceiling for long enough to get them off his back. And Tea Partiers will be furious if he abandons their quest to defund ObamaCare by shutting down the government. So he’s leaving that part in place. [New York]

While Obama could be tempted to win a six-week reprieve from the threat of an economic meltdown, Republicans in the House reportedly see Boehner's move as a way to maximize concessions from the president. "The decision is not about giving ground but simply delaying one fight to dig in on the other," says Jonathan Strong at National Review. Tea Partiers "want to achieve an ObamaCare victory on the CR and then an entitlement-reform victory on the debt ceiling."

In short, Republicans are not tearing up their ransom note, but rather asking for more time to write a new one. The White House does not want to "proceed with both the closed government and a future debt limit hike giving Republicans leverage," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post.

Which brings us back to where we started. Tea Party conservatives want nothing short of fantastical victories, like the dismantling of Obama's signature domestic policy achievement. Democrats will never pay such a massive ransom. As National Review's Robert Costa writes:

Unless Boehner is finally willing to deal with Democrats at the expense of the Tea Party, there is no reason to believe the supposed breakthrough will do anything more than stave off a catastrophic default for six more weeks.

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