10/15/2013 04:21 pm ET

Pass And Flee: The Hot New Plan Rumored To Be Afoot In The House


So the latest bit of wack-ass whimsy that's being talked about inside the Beltway is that the House GOP, rather than avert a host of pending calamities by going along with a deal worked out between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), might instead offer up another one of their own unworkable bills and then skip town, leaving everybody in the lurch. Seriously. That is a thing that's being contemplated.

To begin to unpack all of this, let's first consider what the Senate leadership wants to do. They would prefer to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, but everyone is willing to include, along with these goals, a small tit-for-tat policy exchange. The general terms are these: the GOP gets income verification for Obamacare recipients, while the Democrats get a delay in "reinsurance." (Here's an explainer on what that is.)

The reason this deal is operable is because of this even-handed reciprocation. Both sides get something they want, no one "loses," and it's not a "ransom." As Jonathan Chait explains: "Attaching mutually acceptable deals onto debt-ceiling hikes is historically normal. Using the debt ceiling as a hostage to force a party to accept policies it doesn't like is not." So this deal is also restorative in nature -- it ends the normalization of dangerous debt-ceiling default brinksmanship.

However, as Chait goes on to explain, this is precisely why it's unacceptable, from the point of view of the House GOP:

The principle undergirding the emerging Senate bill — ending hostage tactics, and making all deals reciprocal — is unacceptable to House Republicans, who want to preserve debt-ceiling hostage-taking as a form of policy leverage. So, rather than wait for the Senate to act on its own, the House is attempting to move its own bill, which demands a small ransom: suspending the medical device tax, and eliminating employer health-care subsidies for congressional staff. The ransom is minor, but preserves the principle that the House can use the threat of default to force the president to accede to otherwise unacceptable policy demands, without making any policy concessions of its own.

So, with a deal being wrought that ends or forestalls all of these dangerous crises, and restores sanity to governance, the hot rumor going around is that the House is going to write one last non-reciprocal ransom demand and then flee the Nation's Capitol -- presumably not to return before the debt ceiling deadline -- leaving the Senate and the White House with no other choice but to pay the ransom in order to save the global economy.

And the ransom is this:

Though not final, the House plan would fund the government through Jan. 15, raise the nation's borrowing cap through Feb. 7, delay Obamacare's medical device tax by two years, and eliminate federal health care subsidies for members of Congress but not their staffs.

But that's not all! There is another emerging demand that is flat-out insane:

But one wrinkle in the Republicans' plan seems, at first glance anyway, a bit odd -- and possibly even a deal-killer from the view of the White House and Senate Democrats. According to reports, they have in mind a bill that would also permanently remove some of the extraordinary tools that the Treasury Department has that enables it to delay the day of reckoning when the United States comes up against the debt ceiling.

That's right. The GOP is demanding that the Treasury be banned from taking the necessary steps to manage a debt limit crisis, as they are doing at the moment. They literally want to deny the Treasury their limited ability to preserve the global economy in times of duress. So, not only is this a non-starter from the standpoint that it's not a fair and even bipartisan trade, it's actually straight-up looney-tunes. When it comes to "poison pills," they rarely get as clearly marked or as Day-Glo colored as this one.

Two things contend against this pending disaster. First and foremost, the whole "pass the bill and leave town" plan is still just a rumor. Secondly, and more importantly, there's no indication that even this plan is crazy enough to satisfy the House's bath-salts caucus. Recall that back at the end of September, House GOP leadership proposed that the entire Romney-Ryan economic plan be implemented in exchange for a debt ceiling raise, and even that was deemed to be too timid by the House's extremists.

So, not surprisingly, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the deputy majority whip, is not sure he's got 218 GOP votes for any plan that's been put forward. Which means that further tinkering -- rightward tinkering, specifically, is likely to be necessary. (All of which further pulls the bill further and further from what the Senate is capable of passing.)

Naturally, there are no good "optics" in the scenario where the House GOP sandbags everyone and then runs away in a fit of pique. But based on the polling I've seen, it's not clear that public opinion of the GOP Congress could fall any further, so it's not like they're facing a quantitatively significant backlash for essentially abandoning their posts.

But there's one way that the whole "leave town" scenario actually could solve this problem. As Jonathan Bernstein suggests, maybe the House could pass a goofy non-starter bill, and send everyone to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Then, once the "30-60 or so" members of the "crazy caucus" are safely aboard their plane, cell phones off, tray tables in their upright positions, seat belts fastened, the rest of the GOP caucus tiptoes "back to [the] Capitol, [and] pass whatever the Senate sends over -- with any luck, unanimously, now that voting that way won't separate them from the not-present radicals," Bernstein writes.

That would, indeed, be a fittingly cuckoobananas way to resolve all of this.

Today’s Update: John Boehner to Decide Whether to Blow Up World Now [Daily Intelligencer]
The Brilliant "Leave Town" Option? [A Plain Blog About Politics]

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2013 Government Shutdown