So the Republicans' plan might be coming into focus on the tax question: they'll all just vote present on extending tax cuts the way Obama wants. Which is deliciously ironic, since once upon a time Obama was attacked for voting present too many times. John McCain evidently thought this was completely disqualifying, but the 99.99999% of Americans who have never served in the Senate just sort of yawned at the charge.

All of this is apparently in service of waiting until the debt ceiling is reached to extract major concessions for Obama. What Obama needs to do in this upcoming fight is:

  1. Get a "clean" debt ceiling hike, i.e. one with no cuts attached to it
  2. Make sure Republicans take on enough political damage such that they never try to use this strategy again

As tempting as the 14th Amendment option is to deal with this situation (indeed, it should be mentioned prominently), it won't work for point #2. So we need something else to kill this particular beast. The notion that taking the debt ceiling hostage is a winning strategy for Republicans is hardly sound. After all, Republicans used it as leverage last year and it worked, but largely because the Obama Administration unwisely thought the debt ceiling would provide an incentive to make a deficit deal. This is sort of like setting a goal to run a marathon in four hours, and telling the guy with the starter pistol that, if it takes you more than four hours to run the marathon, he should just go ahead and shoot you. Sure, that would be an incentive, but it's an incredibly stupid one, pointlessly dangerous. Obama seems entirely uninclined to do the same this time around, and under these circumstances he could actually try some tough actions to fight back against this hostage strategy. Just off the top of my head, the Administration could impose the following measures in between when we reach the ceiling, and when we have no choice but to default on our obligations:

  • Withhold all funding for federal projects in Ohio and Virginia until the ceiling is raised
  • Withhold oil & gas subsidies, and suspend all federal permits for resource extraction until the ceiling is raised
  • Withhold all payments to defense contractors until the ceiling is raised

This would, I think, be a nightmare scenario for Boehner. Not only do he and Cantor immediately become the most reviled politicians in their states, hated by everyone working under a federal contract who won't be taking home a paycheck that week (and the greater press attention given to the president would likely ensure they'd take the blame), but it also gets the energy and military-industrial sectors of the party (and the politicians representing them) on board with a very strong incentive to seek a clean hike (financial industry backers lobbied hard for an increase last time, so they're presumably already on board). Sure, there is the possibility that the latter two groups might be galvanized into fiercer anti-Obama opposition is possible, but unlikely. Businesspeople are typically pragmatists, so when faced with a major problem in which one solution is to wait for an indeterminate amount of time in which they are taking in no money to make an ideological point, versus another solution in which they give up literally nothing and start earning again, they will most likely go for the latter. Not to mention that I highly doubt John Boehner has the kind of personal popularity and earned credibility to sell it to these interests, he's clearly an errand boy and always has been. They'd have little choice but to pass a clean increase over the objections of Fox/Rush/Drudge, or else risk the party flying apart at the seams. The political fallout would likely be bad for Boehner, faced with irate constituents on one hand, furious party interests on another, and on the other side furious media organs blasting him for considering going the other way. With any luck, this might turn into a litmus test in the future with conservative activists, like TARP (which Boehner helped shepherd through the House, FWIW) or the Affordable Care Act.

And this is why the debt ceiling should play out differently than last time. Back then, Obama was panicked about what the state of the economy would be like in a year. Now, a slightly worse fiscal quarter or two is much less a concern, and as he starts to think about his legacy, undoing this particular mistake ought to be job one.

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  1. Phil says:

    Your fantasy of Democrats with spines and an understanding of basic strategy is adorable.

    I would love to see it happen, but I have my doubts.

  2. Shared Humanity says:

    This is brilliant. Send a professional suggestion to the White House. Better still, send it and also put up a petition on the internet to be sent as well.

  3. Shared Humanity says:

    Better yet…design a message that voters can send personally to the White House.

  4. I agree that this is a great idea. I will add that this strategy is another argument for letting the tax cuts expire, period. No deal with the Repugnikans whatsoever. Lev’s proposal is much more doable if the government gets the increase in revenue.

  5. Metavirus says:

    visions of sugar plum fairies and democrats playing hardball warm the cockles of my heart. it seems like the latter might actually be a reality this time around. fingers crossed.

  6. Peter John says:

    I agree that Obama should layoff everyone except for certain essential functions and tell the Treasury to issue no checks or money transfers especially social security and Congressmen pay.

    • Shared Humanity says:

      And stopping social security payments would be needed why? Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit or debt.

      • Metavirus says:

        considering that poll after poll show that republicans will get most of the blame for driving us off the extortion-imposed “cliff”, all options should be on the table to put the screws to them.

        i always wonder how the supposed party of patriotism thinks that it’s somehow patriotic to drive our country into another recession, cause even more economic misery for most Real Amer’kins, and risk another credit downgrade, all in the name of spitting in President Blacky McIslamerson’s face. country first!

        but remember, it will all be good news for John McCain.

  7. Shared Humanity says:

    Although I like your suggestion that all funds to support the executive and congressional branchs with regards to salary and expenses be suspended. They can do pro-bono work until they get things done.

    • Metavirus says:

      i really think that threats of curtailing the perquisites for congresscritters should be more in vogue. i always thought the rhetorical device of pointing out that all of our duly elected representatives have single payer health insurance (and that none of the republicans in congress elect to forego this blatant SOSHULISM!!11!) was a good one.

  8. Shared Humanity says:

    Senate and Congressional salaries alone add up to more than $93 million per year.

  9. Shared Humanity says:

    The average salaries for the staff of a senator is $3 million per year so suspending pay for staff would be another $300 million.

  10. Shared Humanity says:

    Congressional staff salaries average nearly $1 million so that is another $435 million. Without looking at the executive branch we are already at over $800 million.

    • Lev says:

      More like $150,000 I believe, but it’s the message that gets sent. Problem is that most of the Tea Party congresspeople are really rich…

  11. Matmos says:

    I get the impression — although it’s mostly just knee-jerk cynicism — that everything public is just a game of “hey look over there” while this sort of thing is going on:

  12. Shared Humanity says:

    We can save over $800 million if we stop payment to the executive branch. Not sure how the President’s family will eat but they could follow Cory Booker’s lead and go on foodstamps.

  13. Shared Humanity says:

    Now we get to the big bucks…..Defense Department procurement and R&D.

    Total annual savings if we suspend payments until they fix the budget……$194 billion dollars. My guess is GE will be putting some pressure on people.

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