The Washington Post
Republican lawmakers crowded the Senate TV studio last week to issue a threat:
Meet their demands, or they will force the United States to
way to prevent the catastrophe, these Tea Party faithful said, was for the
Senate to pass, and the president to sign, their plan to permanently cap
spending at levels last seen in 1966, before Medicare made the nation soft.
“We want to
make very clear: This is not just the best plan on the table for addressing the
debt limit — this is the only plan,” first-term Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) said,
vowing that “we’re otherwise going to be blowing past the debt-limit
“We have a
solution,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.). “It’s the only one that can be passed
before the August 2nd deadline.”
This is the
language of gangster films: Do as we say — or the girl gets it.
listening to the 20 House and Senate Republicans recite their demands, it was
clear they were deadly serious. And that’s why, even though a large majority of
lawmakers want to avoid default, it could still
Republican leadership aide has taken to calling them the “Default Caucus”: a
universe of Republicans who would sooner see the federal government default than
reach a compromise with President Obama. In the House, they may well have enough
clout to block a deal.
to negotiation “game theory,” the Default Caucus has boosted Republicans’
leverage. “Your hand is greatly strengthened if you can convince the other side
that you’re crazy,” said James Miller, an economist at Smith College. It has enabled House Speaker John
Boehner to tell the president: The Tea Party has locked our steering wheel and
we can’t swerve — so you have to.
negotiations between Boehner and Obama suggest that the president has indeed
swerved, offering Republicans $3
trillion in spending cuts in exchange for future increases in taxes. Yet
even that offer, which liberals would regard as surrender, wouldn’t necessarily
satisfy the Default Caucus.
to have made the rational assumption that after the Tea Party Republicans get
most of what they want, they will strike a deal. But what if they aren’t
bluffing and they really won’t settle for anything less than a constitutional
amendment returning us to 1966? What if they aren’t merely pretending to be
crazy enough to tank the economy but actually are?
be happening now, if the Democrats think the Republicans are willing to swerve
but they’re really not,” Miller said. “The worst scenario is you’re a madman and
you can’t convince the other person of that, because then you
possibility cannot be dismissed. So far, the Default Caucus is disregarding the
advice of the Wall
Street Journal editorial board, warnings
from Standard & Poor’s, the record
of Ronald Reagan and even the permission
of Grover Norquist, the conservative loyalty enforcer who said that ending
the Bush-era tax cuts would not violate lawmakers’ anti-tax
Caucus has dismissed all compromises. Obama and Boehner’s “Grand Bargain”? The
“Gang of Six” proposal? Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s plan? No,
nay, never. Even Tom Coburn’s plan to shave deficits by $9 trillion was
disparaged as a “$1 trillion tax hike.”
“You have a
lot of members who don’t like the idea of a compromise,” CBS News’s Nancy Cordes
pointed out to Boehner at his weekly news conference, “or who don’t even want to
raise the debt ceiling. Have you told them that any deal is going to have to
involve some compromise?”
the speaker said.
ignored her and solicited a different question.
Fox News’s Chad Pergram asked the speaker if he has a “sense that some of your members are locked in and that they cannot compromise?”
“I do not
believe that would be anywhere close to the majority,” Boehner
No? A Pew
Research Center poll last week found that 53 percent of Republicans, and 65
percent of Tea Party faithful, believe that the Aug. 2 default deadline can be
ignored without major problems.
televised session listing their demands, the Tea Party lawmakers chuckled when
CNN’s Kate Bolduan asked if they were concerned about being blamed for
explained that Obama “manufactured this crisis.”
problem game theorists recognize. “You’re essentially empowering minorities so
you can extract more,” said Daniel Diermeier of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“But once you do that, if they are radical and don’t want to agree, you’re
stuck, and the deal falls through.”