As the 2014 midterm elections approach, Republicans are feeling increasingly optimistic about their chances of winning a majority in the U.S. Senate, along with keeping control of the House of Representatives. And while there is reason to doubt that the current Republican plan of simply trashing the Affordable Care Act without even offering an alternative will persuade large numbers of voters, there’s no question that the electoral map strongly favors the GOP.
Still, there is one thing that could completely dash the Republicans’ electoral hopes: another protracted battle over raising the debt ceiling.
Despite the massive political damage the GOP sustained in October, when it forced a government shutdown and took the nation to the brink of debt default, many Republicans appear eager to once again hold the global economy hostage in another doomed effort to force concessions from Democrats when the limit must be raised again in February or March (Senate Democrats contend that Congress has a bit more time).
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) set the tone in December, when he vowed that “We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit.”
His stance has since been echoed by several members of Congress, such as influential conservative Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) — who suggested that the “debate is going to be over more cutting” from the budget — and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who promised a fight in the wake of the budget deal that took another government shutdown off the table.
“I doubt if the House or for that matter the Senate is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase,” McConnell warned. “We’ll have to see what the House insists on adding to it as a condition for passing it.”
Here’s the problem for the GOP: No matter what the House insists on “adding to it as a condition,” the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House will not accept it. Democrats, led by President Obama, made it abundantly clear in October that they would never again negotiate over a debt ceiling deal. McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) then confirmed that they don’t have to, by folding in the 25th hour and making it plain that they won’t actually allow the U.S. to default on its debt. When it comes to the debt limit, congressional Republicans have absolutely no leverage.
That doesn’t mean that they won’t force a confrontation anyway, however. After all, a startling number of Republican legislators — along with the voters who sent them to Washington — don’t appear to understand that the debt ceiling actually needs to be raised. If, like Congressmen Fleming, you don’t believe economists who warn that failing to pay our bills would lead to fiscal catastrophe, then you have no incentive not to force another crisis to prove to your right-wing constituents that you’re fighting the good fight against the Obama administration.