The juxtaposition here is telling.
First, from Politico, an explanation of how House Republicans and their leaders are approaching the issue of a looming showdown over the debt ceiling:
“I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious,” House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state told us. “We always talk about whether or not we’re going to kick the can down the road. I think the mood is that we’ve come to the end of the road.”
Republican leadership officials, in a series of private meetings and conversations this past week, warned that the White House, much less the broader public, doesn’t understand how hard it will be to talk restive conservatives off the fiscal ledge. To the vast majority of House Republicans, it is far riskier long term to pile up new debt than it is to test the market and economic reaction of default or closing down the government.
GOP officials said more than half of their members are prepared to allow default unless Obama agrees to dramatic cuts he has repeatedly said he opposes. Many more members, including some party leaders, are prepared to shut down the government to make their point. House Speaker John Boehner “may need a shutdown just to get it out of their system,” said a top GOP leadership adviser. “We might need to do that for member-management purposes — so they have an endgame and can show their constituents they’re fighting.”
That’s right: By the admission of top GOP officials, internal party “member-management purposes” may require them to force a shutdown of the U.S. government. Furthermore, House Republicans are out of the speaker’s control and even more intransigent than understood by the White House and the general public, which already believes them to be extremist.
Now contrast that with President Obama’s statements today at a White House press conference to close his first four-year term:
“America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up. If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks, and veterans benefits will be delayed.
We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners. Food inspectors, air traffic controllers, specialists who track down loose nuclear materials wouldn’t get their paychecks. Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is in fact a safe bet. Markets could go haywire, interest rates would spike for anybody who borrows money. Every homeowner with a mortgage, every student with a college loan, every small business owner who wants to grow and hire.
It would be a self-inflicted wound on the economy. It would slow down our growth, might tip us into recession. And ironically it would probably increase our deficit. So to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd….
Republicans in Congress have two choices here. They can act responsibly, and pay America’s bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip.”
In the weeks ahead, the American people will have to decide which of those two narratives they find more appealing, patriotic and rational. But the GOP has already made its choice. They continue to insist, publicly and apparently in private conversations among themselves, that it’s “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” toward a government shutdown. Having whipped themselves into a fervor, convinced of the holiness of their mission, they will not be dissuaded from carrying it out.
The rest of us are just along for the ride.
– Jay Bookman