Congressional Republicans have no reason to use the debt ceiling to hold the nation hostage again. None. The deficit is already shrinking with remarkable speed; the last GOP debt-ceiling crisis did real harm to the nation; GOP leaders have ruled out default; and Republican lawmakers themselves don't even have anything specific in mind in terms of demands. There's just no need to put Americans through this again.
And yet, there were House Republicans yesterday, meeting in private a few hours before voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act for the 37th time, "quietly planning their strategy for the next showdown over the debt limit," which will probably come in September or October.
At a two-hour listening session Wednesday afternoon in the basement of the Capitol, rank-and-file lawmakers offered suggestions for handling an event that, in 2011, blew their approval ratings to smithereens.
The good news: This time around, most GOP lawmakers agree that they probably should not block a debt-limit increase, halt Treasury borrowing and let the government default on its obligations. According to GOP aides who attended the meeting, the "hell no" caucus appears to be radically diminished.
The bad news for President Obama: Republicans will demand some kind of prize for voting to raise the debt limit, preferably some policy that serves to reduce the debt.
Just so we're clear, Republicans know they have an obligation to raise the debt ceiling. They know they can't refuse to meet their obligations. They know crashing the economy on purpose isn't a real option. And yet, their official position is, in effect, "Give us a treat or we'll start deliberately hurting Americans. No goodies = no peace."
The GOP's hostage takers seem to have decided on one thing: the value of taking a hostage. They haven't the foggiest idea what to put on the ransom note -- really, no clue -- but they know there will be a ransom note, and they want everyone, from the Oval Office to Main Street, to know that they're prepared to push the nation into default, no matter the consequences, unless they get something that makes them happy.
And on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, we see the White House's position: there will be no negotiations with those holding America hostage. Congress has a job to do, so there's no need to give lawmakers a treat to entice them to do what they already know they must do."
But Republicans just can't seem to help themselves.
At the meeting, 39 lawmakers lined up at microphones to offer suggestions. They ranged from tax and entitlement reform to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to passage of a bill that would require congressional approval for any federal regulation that would impose more than $100 million in new costs on business.
At least one person wanted to take on late-term abortion in the wake of the murder conviction of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell. Others suggested repeal or delay of Obama's health-care initiative. But for the most part, lawmakers tried to be "realistic," aides said, suggesting measures that could reasonably be expected to both improve the economy and pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.
At this point, you might be wondering why in the world the White House would enter debt-ceiling negotiations with lawmakers who've already said they can't block a debt-ceiling increase. And I have a strong hunch folks in the West Wing are asking the same question.
Still, Politico reports that House Republican leaders are "considering releasing its debt ceiling plan before the August recess so lawmakers can actively sell it to their constituents."
This is arguably the single stupidest, manufactured, self-imposed crisis imaginable, but at least for now, it's going to happen anyway.