On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell went on Fox News to declare that the Republicans were ready to tie demands to the next debt ceiling hike. By this morning, that threat had apparently already dissipated. Well, that was fun.
It was a weird threat anyway. The October government shutdown, a complete political disaster for the Republicans, reached its inevitable breaking point once the debt ceiling needed to be raised. If Congress hadn't raised the debt ceiling, after all, the country would have put its creditworthiness at risk, likely spurring a shockwave effect that would ripple throughout the economy. It's why big business was adamant about passing a debt ceiling increase (an increase that doesn't allow more spending, it simply authorizes the government to pay debts already incurred). The Chamber of Commerce was so freaked out that it pledged $50 million to boot anti-debt-ceiling Republicans during the 2014 primaries.
But McConnell issued the threat anyway, in advance of the expected late February expiration of the government's ability to borrow money. "[W]e ought to discuss adding something to his request to raise the debt ceiling that does something about the debt or produces at least something positive for our country," McConnell said. In September, the GOP outlined what it wanted for a debt ceiling increase; of the seven big-picture items on its list, it got precisely zero. It did get one thing not on its list: terrible poll numbers.
On Wednesday, Politico reports that the GOP has already given up on repeating that success. "The most senior figures in the House Republican Conference," it reports, "are privately acknowledging that they will almost certainly have to pass what’s called a clean debt ceiling increase in the next few months, abandoning the central fight that has defined their three-year majority." Why? Because "no one is as dug in as they were in years past." Because the party keeps losing the fight when it picks it. That's why. Of course.
Party members are headed to Maryland on Wednesday for their annual planning retreat. Some of the people going are bringing along dog-eared copies of the demands from last year, ready to make the case that the debt ceiling should be held hostage to get priorities passed. In fact, an initial round of discussions with the Democrats might include some of those items. "Observers would be wise to ignore" such a move, Politico says. "It’s mostly just theater."
None of which means there won't be a massive battle in February. It just means that we already know how it's going to end. Oh, um: spoiler alert.