Before the ink is even dry on the new budget deal that House Republicans and Democrats agreed upon last week, Paul Ryan, who was posturing as the great healer and uniter of our divided government, threw a mind-bending zinger at the American people. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, he stated that the GOP is preparing once again to take the debt ceiling hostage and will decide during an upcoming retreat what the size of the ransom will be.
And to add insult to injury, Mitch McConnell reiterated the threat Tuesday.
Other than the bizarre 'retreat' reference (somehow the revelation that Republicans will come up with fresh ideas on how to destroy the nation over steaks and cigars does not make it better), Ryan's comment was simply incredible. Not only did he completely backtrack on his stated desire to find common ground with the Democrats, but he did it while still pushing the compromise budget deal through Congress.
But in doing so, Ryan did not only take two-facedness to a whole new level but delivered an early Christmas gift to President Obama.
Let's face it. The budget deal is really not that great for Democrats. It does unwind a lot of the draconian and reckless sequestration cuts but replaces them with punitive airline fees, reductions to veterans pensions, and failure to extend unemployment benefits for struggling Americans. The compromise can hardly be called a win for the people. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction and that might be why the Democrats agreed to it. The only problem is that despite the spirit of détente that it seems to embody, the deal does not address the (very) big issue of the federal debt ceiling, which will come into play again sometime this summer.
The Republican calculation on it (if anything Ryan says can actually be believed or if gross stupidity could actually be called calculation) is that by pretending to extend an olive branch on a deal that doesn't really give the Democrats what they want anyway, they are earning the right to play hardball on the debt ceiling later. But if that is the case, then they clearly slept through the government shutdown earlier this year and are still napping their way through the aftermath.
The lesson that the GOP seems unable to learn, no matter how many times life tries to teach it to them, is that the American people do not like having their entire future, not to mention their immediate financial security, jeopardized because of risky political gambits by a power-hungry party. If Republicans really love to roll the dice so much, they should go to a casino; but gambling with the debt ceiling as a chip is beyond unacceptable.
Which is why the Democrats should be celebrating right now. No matter what happens, the Republicans are about to make huge idiots of themselves, and what makes it priceless is that they will be doing it a second time in a row. As long as President Obama holds firm on his promise not to negotiate an inch over the debt ceiling, the Democrats will come out winners in the upcoming saga. With midterm elections less than a year away, the best thing that Republicans can do for their rivals, in fact, is to threaten the integrity of our economy in a horror replay of Groundhog Day. If the public was angry at the government shutdown and the degree of recklessness displayed by the GOP last time around, their reaction is sure to be even more retributive this time.
So go ahead, Mr. Ryan, put your hand in the fire again. Your party's credibility is nearly extinct anyway so why not just finish the job and make everyone's day?
SANJAY SANGHOEE is a political and business commentator. He has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner, as well as at multi-billion dollar hedge fund Ramius. His opinion pieces appear in Huffington Post, TIME, Bloomberg Businessweek, FORTUNE, and Christian Science Monitor, and he has appeared on CNBC's 'Closing Bell', MSNBC's 'The Cycle', TheStreet.com, and HuffPost Live on business topics. He is also the author of two thriller novels.
For more information, please visit www.sanghoee.com