The GOP, the Tea Party and the Debt Limit

One thing that has become crystal clear during this standoff over raising the debt ceiling is that the grownups in the Republican party are struggling mightily to control the far right whackos. In the House, John Boehner has admitted that the Tea Partiers in that chamber are deliberately trying to provoke financial chaos:

BOEHNER: Well, first they want more. And my goodness, I want more too. And secondly, a lot of them believe that if we get past August the second and we have enough chaos, we could force the Senate and the White House to accept a balanced budget amendment. I’m not sure that that — I don’t think that that strategy works. Because I think the closer we get to August the second, frankly, the less leverage we have vis a vis our colleagues in the Senate and the White House.


And in the Senate, John McCain is blasting the more extreme members of that chamber for being wildly unrealistic:

DeMint, Lee, Paul and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) wrote a letter to colleagues Tuesday urging them to oppose a fallback plan drafted by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that would cut the deficit by $850 billion and require Congress to pass a $1.8 trillion deficit-reduction package before the election.

These lawmakers want colleagues to make another effort to pass the “Cut, Cap and Balance” act, which requires congressional passage of a balanced-budget amendment before raising the debt limit.

McCain said this goal is utterly unrealistic given Democratic control of the Senate. A balanced-budget amendment would need the support of 20 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to pass.

“What is really amazing about this is that some members are believing that we can pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution in this body with its present representation — and that is foolish,” he said. “That is worse than foolish. That is deceiving many of our constituents.”

McCain said he supports a balanced-budget amendment and voted for one 13 times but thinks its unrealistic to demand one now with a potential national default only six days away.

He implied that conservative freshmen who think it’s possible to sway enough Democrats are naïve.

“That is not fair to the American people, to hold out and say we won’t agree to raising the debt limit until we pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution,” McCain said. “It’s unfair, it’s bizarre. And maybe some people [who] have only been in this body for six or seven months or so really believe it.”

And the Wall Street Journal is getting in on the act too:

McCain cited the Wall Street Journal’s editorial to back up his argument.

“The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against … Barack Obama,” he said, quoting the paper. “The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the Tea Party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.”

McCain warned that House Tea Party conservatives would give President Obama a major political victory by rejecting Boehner’s plan to increase the debt limit.

Quoting the Journal again, McCain said: “If conservatives defeat the Boehner plan they will not only undermine their House majority, they will go far [toward] reelecting Mr. Obama and making entitlements that much harder to reform.”

The WSJ adds, “This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into GOP Senate nominees.” It’s a battle between pragmatists and zealots. And zealots rarely give in because purity is the only currency they have.

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