Is It Time to Force a Clean Debt Ceiling Hike?

Even though passage of Boehner’s plan is looking increasingly unlikely, I realize the most likely fallback is Boehner cobbling together some cross-pollination of his plan with Reid’s plan. Then that passes through the House with a coalition of Democrats and more moderate Republicans, Reid gets it through the Senate, Obama puts pen to paper, and it’s a done deal. Essentially, not much different from what we would’ve gotten had Boehner’s plan passed the House, and then gone through the inevitable renegotiation in order to clear the Senate. (Although Ezra Klein has broached the possibility that Boehner moves to the right.)

As Klein has observed, today’s House vote was really a referendum on John Boehner himself, and how much credibility he has with his caucus. He’d have to lose Republicans no matter what in order to reach an accord with the Senate, but today’s vote would at least prove he has his party corralled.

Well, it turns out he doesn’t have his party corralled. At all. So assuming some miraculous eleventh-and-a-half hour recovery isn’t in the works, here’s the question: Even with his preferred plan, unsullied by comprise, Boehner wasn’t able to get quite enough Republicans together. Presumably, more than a few of those Republicans voting “yes” would’ve preferred to vote “no,” but didn’t want to be the last holdout. So once he starts moving left to collect votes from the other side of the aisle, I doubt it’s going to be a one-to-one trade off between Democrats and Republicans. It’s going to be more like a cascade effect, as more and more Republicans suddenly feel free to bail, forcing Boehner to acquire ever more Democrats and thus move ever further left.

So where does this end? How many Republicans does he lose? A third of his initial “yes” votes? Half? Two thirds? And once Boehner starts dealing, how much will the Democrats demand? More specifically, would they go so far as to demand a clean debt ceiling hike?

This was the White House’s original preferred route. And I know some Democrats in the House are floating the idea. It seems to me that once Boehner’s credibility with his own caucus starts unraveling, the Democrats could demand a clean bill as the price of cooperation. Force Boenher into working with their caucus, and whatever small number of moderate Republicans he can bring along. Obama could force the issue as well, declare that time has run out on putting together a complicated deal, and tell the legislature to get a simple one-sentence clean debt ceiling hike to his desk ASAP. (Though I doubt he’d do this.)

Am I off with here? Is this a serious possibility? Too much damage has probably already been done to avoid a market freakout should we take this route. But it’s the route that should’ve been taken to begin with, and it will save the country from a whole lot of stupid and destructive cuts.

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