Boehner's 'Offer': A Ticking Time Bomb Is Still a Bomb

A time bomb with a six-week fuse is still a bomb. And as long as the Republicans keep issuing threats and shutting down the government, they're still playing with dynamite.

It was initially reported that the GOP's "offer" to extend the debt ceiling for six weeks was rejected by the White House. There's good reason to reject it. The Republican proposal isn't a concession. They're merely rescheduling their threat so that it can hang over the nation until Thanksgiving. They'd still keep the government closed.  And their proposal reportedly included provisions that would prevent the Treasury Department from taking "extraordinary measures" to keep paying the government's bills - now, and in the future.

The GOP's stance is: We won't hurt you with the debt ceiling now, but we're prepared to do it in a few weeks. We'll hold off on wreaking widespread economic havoc until then, but in return you must render yourself helpless in the face of our threats - now, and forever - despite the fact that our corporate funders want us to hold off anyway. Oh - and we'll keep on hurting you with the shutdown in the meantime.

You call that an offer?

Politico does. It described the proposal as "a relatively clean debt limit hike" that comes "with no ideological strings attached," and gave the story this headline: "John Boehner's offer puts President Obama on the spot."

God help us.

The Fog

Reports that the President had rejected the deal were quickly walked back, or at least shrouded in a fog of uncertainty. That's a shame. The situation calls for clarity, not obscurity, from the President and his party.

There's no question that Boehner's in a tough position. The shutdown, and the debt ceiling threat, is shattering his party's standing in the polls. His party's deep-pocket donors are understandably dismayed at the idea of allowing the government to default on its financial obligations, since it would cost them a lot of money. The six-week extension would mollify them, at least temporarily.

Unfortunately for Boehner, the New York Times reported that his party's Tea Party members don't want to pass that extension without extracting further concessions from the President and House Democrats. Since Democrats have already agreed to extend sequestration cuts, they're understandably reluctant to give up anything else - especially for what is only, in practical terms, an extension in the blackmail threat's duration.

Tea Party - and No Sympathy

But don't bother feeling sorry for Boehner. And don't waste any sympathy on his colleagues or their wealthy funders. Together they created and nurtured the Tea Party's fanaticism for their own ends, showering the public with anti-government, anti-Democratic, and anti-Obama invective that bordered on obscenity and bigotry - and sometimes crossed the line.

As the old proverb says, "He who rides the tiger cannot dismount." If the Tea Party tiger is biting them now, they've earned every toothmark on their posteriors.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had rejected the idea of Democratic concessions in return for a six-week delay on Thursday afternoon, according to Jim Acosta from CNN, which is the right way to go. But these new reports suggest that the White House may (or may not) be overruling him.

Joan Walsh from Salon reported that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would demand concessions from Republicans in return for an extension, tweeting: "If Boehner needs Dem votes on a short-term debt-ceiling hike, @NancyPelosi says, 'they don't come with nothing.'"

Now you're talking.

Unfortunately that hasn't been confirmed as of this writing. But if Salon is correct, the Democrats are finally learning how to handle these threats. The GOP's government shutdown has sent the party into a downward spiral in the polls. If it wants to buy some breathing room to rescue itself, the only question Democrats should be asking is: How much is that worth to you?

Reasons to Resist

Some people will argue that this is an irresponsible position. If a government default would wreak economic havoc - and it would - shouldn't Democrats forestall it at any cost? The answer is no, for these reasons:
  1. Surrendering to threats will lead to more threats. In the long run, that's the most harmful course of action imaginable.
  2. The Republicans' demands will  hurt our already-damaged economy even more. Their  spending cuts will destroy even more jobs, over and above those lost in the last round of cuts, and will shrink the GDP even more.
  3. The government would remained shut down under the GOP's proposal. Republicans would be allowed to act as if they were being reasonable - a perception that would almost certainly be reinforced by some media outlets - while continuing to damage the government and the public with their shutdown.
  4. Protracted negotiations - especially with a default hanging over both sides' heads - are likely to lead to a destructive Grand Bargain which cuts Social Security and Medicare. Unfortunately, the President already included Social Security cuts (through the chained CPI) in his proposed budget, so negotiations would almost certainly lead to these harmful cuts.
  5. Democrats have already rewarded Republicans by agreeing to extend sequestration's cuts. That means Republicans have already been offered 2013 spending levels billions of dollars below those which Congressional Republicans voted for after budget talks.
  6. A deferred threat of default would leave markets confused and uncertain, limiting certain kinds of investment in an already fragile economy.
  7. It would also be likely to continue weakening investors' confidence in the US Treasury, which in turn will raise the cost of future borrowing - for the government and everybody else.
  8. There's a good chance that the GOP's paymasters will force it to end its strong-arm tactics anyway, without Democratic concessions. They've already begun pressuring them.
  9. Republicans know they're being hammered in the polls and need to find a way out. Democrats don't need to wave any white flags.
A Time to Lead

Negotiations would reward hostage-taking, which the President swore not to do with the debt ceiling, and would inevitably lead to similar showdowns in the future. There's no way to spin this situation that avoids that simple reality.

Resisting the GOP will take firm leadership, especially when the media starts cranking out headlines like Politico's, as they almost certainly will keep doing.  That resolve will reap great rewards - for Democrats and, more importantly, for the entire country.

Let's hope the President and Congressional Democrats have what it takes to resist the distorted worldview of media and political elites. They must reject any deal which worsens this country's long-term economic and legislative outlook. That's especially true when the deal would reward Republicans for being destructive and protect them when they're being self-destructive.

Sometimes the most responsible way to handle a crisis is by making sure it never happens again.