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Will Republicans Get Sane On The Debt Ceiling?

Today’s Politico notes that Republicans in Congress aren’t buying the arguments being put forward by the Administration about the dangers of not raising the limit on the National Debt:

House Republican leaders have spent a lot of time lately assuring Wall Street that they understand the calamitous consequences that would result from a default on the nation’s debt.

But at an economic forum here in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s hometown, “Main Street” business leaders didn’t seem to have much interest in the issue that preoccupies Washington, New York and other cities concerned with high finance.

Rather than the nation’s account ledger, they talked about issues that affect their own ledgers: gas prices, government regulation and tax policy. Even liberal activists who confronted Cantor after the event wanted to pick fights on abortion rights and public radio funding.

Cantor didn’t bring up the debt limit, either.

It all speaks to a festering problem for the Obama administration: Its sense of urgency over the debt limit isn’t catching on with Republicans — or with voters.

Republican lawmakers and aides tell POLITICO that the debt-limit increase is in danger, in part, because it’s not a major issue of concern for most voters. On top of that, Republicans say, the White House has undermined its own credibility by moving the expected date of default repeatedly, giving them little confidence in pronouncements of impending disaster.

“No one is saying, ‘Raise the debt limit.’ No one. Zero. Unless you pay really close attention to politics, you’re not talking about the debt ceiling,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said of his interactions with constituents. Of his colleagues, he said, “Everyone’s getting the TARP feeling again.”

It took two attempts to win a House majority for the bank bailout bill in 2008 after Republicans defected en masse from President George W. Bush. Lawmakers in both parties felt trapped as constituents urged them not to reward Wall Street for the financial meltdown and top government officials warned them that the nation’s economy would collapse without swift action in support of foundering banks.

Likewise, many Americans aren’t thrilled with the idea of giving more borrowing authority to a government incapable of balancing its books. So lawmakers are faced again with choosing between an administration sounding the alarm and constituents who are, at best, ambivalent about the debt ceiling.

Of course they aren’t. As I noted the other day, the entire idea of a debt ceiling is designed in such as way as to allow politicians in Washington to demagogue the issue of Federal spending, which the Constitution gives them the full authority to control, without actually doing anything about it. However, this isn’t just an academic fight over economic policy, it’s the real world and, as Alan Blinder notes in the Wall Street Journal, failure to raise the debt limit would have disastrous real world consequences:

What happens if we crash into the debt ceiling? Nobody really knows, but it’s not likely to be pretty. Inflows and outflows of cash to and from the Treasury jump around from day to day as bills are paid and revenues arrive. But at average fiscal 2011 rates, receipts cover only about 60% of expenditures. So if we hit the borrowing wall traveling at full speed, the U.S. government’s total outlays—a complex amalgam that includes everything from Social Security benefits to soldiers’ pay to interest on the national debt—will have to drop by about 40% immediately.

(…)

At some point, Mr. Geithner could wind up brooding over horrible questions like these: Do we stop issuing checks for Social Security benefits, or for soldiers’ pay, or for interest payments to the Chinese government? Such agonizing choices are what make default imaginable.

Threatening to default should not be a partisan issue……. In view of all the hazards it entails, one wonders why any responsible person would even flirt with the idea.

So one side, we’ve got the Obama Administration, pretty much every economist on both sides of the aisle, abnd Wall Street and the business community arguing that Congress needs to swallow its pride, raise the debt ceiling, and then get to work on long term fiscal reform. On the other side, we’ve got the Tea Party movement, which is strongly opposed to raising the limit. Stuck in the middle, we find John Boehner and the GOP:

That leaves Boehner stuck between the Tea Party and a hard place. If he pushes too hard on cuts, that will rattle the Republican Party’s powerful Wall Street wing, potentially roiling the markets and unsettling the broader electorate.

But backing down will also hurt him. “After accusations he didn’t do enough in the budget battle, Boehner has to have something real to take back to conservatives or he’s in trouble,” said James McCormick, a professor of political science at Iowa State University. “He’s boxed in between two components of the Republican Party. Obama knows that and is not under the same pressure.”

If the Republicans falter, the search for establishment targets will kick into a higher gear — with freshmen, or those elected in 2010 seen as the easiest to unseat as they are new.

“The Tea Party will almost certainly primary those they want to get rid of,” said Larry Sabato, a politics professor at the University of Virginia. “They are not out to rebuild the Republican Party. They are out to take over the Republican Party and make it more like the Tea Party.”

“If it takes some Republican defeats along the way to make that happen, then that is what they’ll do,” he added.

Kevin Drum, though, sees the debate as more of a problem for the Tea Party movement than the GOP establishment:

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a huge pain in the ass for Boehner because, in the end, he’ll have to defy the tea partiers and do what Wall Street wants — which, on the bright side, also happens to be the right thing to do. In the longer term, though, this is just another sign of the tea party wearing out its welcome. It was a handy force for rousing the voters in the 2010 election, but there’s only so much idiocy that even Republicans can put up with. Talk radio is one thing. Fox News is one thing. For the most part, they talk big but don’t actually demand that politicians commit suicide. Tea partiers, conversely, do want them to commit suicide, and if they get their way the only real result is going to be more Democrats in Congress and the reelection of Barack Obama. The adults in the party understand this perfectly well, and they’re going to throw the tea partiers under the bus if it looks like they’re seriously screwing things up for GOP hopes next year.

So, yeah, Boehner is going to take this down to the wire. He’s going to try to extort some spending cuts out of the White House. He might as well do what he can to appease the tea partiers, after all. But in the end, he’ll vote to raise the debt ceiling, he’ll get enough Republican votes to make it stick, and the Republican establishment is going to finally decide it’s tired of the tea party if they make too much trouble about it.

I think that Drum is probably right about how this is going to turn out. Back in November, Boehner, then Speaker-Designate, said that he was making it clear to the incoming caucus that they would have to deal with the debt ceiling issue like adults, implying that the Tea Party would just have to accept the fact that the debt ceiling is going to be increased because there is no other rational option. At the same time, of course, there were people like Grover Norquist telling incoming House freshman to “take no prisoners” and to hold the line on the “no tax increases” and anti-debt limit increase orthodoxy that his organization preaches. And, so, we are where we are.

What I said in November applies equally today:

Raising the debt ceiling is a crappy vote for any legislator to take. It demonstrates as plain as day the fiscal irresponsibility of the Federal Government, and the act of voting to push the debt limit even further into the fiscal stratosphere is one that looks bad on any representative’s resume. However, it’s also not a vote to be playing games with, as Boehner correctly points out. Unless Republicans intend to use the debt ceiling vote as a catalyst to force a national debate on making the kinds of spending cuts and tax changes that will be needed to seriously deal with the debt (and I would love it if they did), they need to just swallow their pride and cast the vote.

In the end, I think that’s what will happen. Boehner will bring his caucus along, the Tea Party will be pissed, but the right thing will have been done. But I’m going to predict right now that it won’t happen until the absolutely last possible minute. Because, you know, that’s how we do things here.

 

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    But I’m going to predict right now that it won’t happen until the absolutely last possible minute. Because, you know, that’s how we do things here.

    Coincidentally that’s exactly when my son takes out the trash and my daughter cleans her room. About a millisecond before I decide to kill them. Of course, there’s hope for them: they’re just children, not Congressmen.

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  2. Michael,

    I think there’s a song in that “Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Congressmen”

    I’ll get Willie Nelson on the phone asap

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  3. anjin-san says:

    Doug… can you explain for us again why you could never vote for a Democrat?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. ponce says:

    What will the GOP do?

    Exactly what its Wall Street masters tell it to do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. legion says:

    Ponce,
    That’s where the rub is… some of them will do as their Wall Street Masters tell them, but there are just enough GOPers who are owned by the Tea Party – people who don’t have even a 101-level grasp of basic economics, they just yell real loud – to throw a wrench in that plan. _That’s_ why Boehner (and everyone else in DC) is scared shitless about what’ll happen when the other shoe drops…

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  6. Have a nice G.A. says:

    Doug… can you explain for us again why you could never vote for a Democrat?

    Hey….?

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  7. ken says:

    Why do you think that crazy people will suddenly stop being crazy?

    As long enough people continue to vote for republicans we will continue to have crazy people doing crazy things.

    I mean, what is more crazy than cutting taxes and then expecting deficits to go down?

    What does it take for normal people to give up on the Republican party?

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  8. ponce says:

    the Tea Party – people who don’t have even a 101-level grasp of basic economics

    I disagree.

    I think the Tea Party rubes know exactly what failing to raise the debt ceiling would do.

    They dream of returning to the imaginary times when their love of guns and their willingness to commit senseless violence would meant they wouldn’t be stuck on the lowest rungs of society.

    Until they actually experienced it, of course.

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  9. anjin

    can you explain for us again why you could never vote for a Democrat?

    Because Democrats have never met a situation that they didn’t believe could be solved by making the government bigger, more powerful, and more intrusive

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. mantis says:

    can you explain for us again why you could never vote for a Democrat?

    Because Democrats have never met a situation that they didn’t believe could be solved by making the government bigger, more powerful, and more intrusive

    Ah. For an imaginary reason.

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  11. george says:

    Because Democrats have never met a situation that they didn’t believe could be solved by making the government bigger, more powerful, and more intrusive

    As opposed to the Republicans, who think large gov’t is great so long as its military, or the drug war, or the Patriot Act, or Wall Street Bailouts?

    Both parties are all for increasing gov’t size, they just argue about what parts to make bigger. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

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  12. ponce says:

    Ah. For an imaginary reason.

    Haha,

    Doug is just demonstrating why some of the worst human beings can run as Republicans and be guaranteed a nontrivial amount of votes.

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  13. @ponce, @george, @mantis,

    Where have I said that I will vote for someone just because they happen to be a Republican?

    Don’t bother looking, because I haven’t and I won’t

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  14. ponce says:

    Don’t bother looking, because I haven’t and I won’t

    Considering you have posted over 115,000 tweets I’ll take your word for it :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. mantis says:

    Where have I said that I will vote for someone just because they happen to be a Republican?

    Didn’t say you did. I’m just saying your characterization of Democrats is, at best, inaccurate.

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  16. mantis says:

    Let’s look at an example, shall we? One of your senators is Democrat Jim Webb. Do you believe Webb has “never met a situation that [he] didn’t believe could be solved by making the government bigger, more powerful, and more intrusive?”

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  17. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Weren’t we told that, if we didn’t urgently pass the stimulus bill, we would have 8.8% unemployment? It was passed and today we are at 9% (officially, over 10% actually).

    Seems to me that the White House has cried wolf one-too-many times.

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  18. Wiley Stoner says:

    What is the point of a ceiling if you get to keep raising it. It is our credit card they are using. Idiots like Reynold, Mantis and Anjin want to trust the fools which got us in this position. F. Off liars, Bush spent less in 8 years than Obama has in 2.

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  19. michael reynolds says:

    Because Democrats have never met a situation that they didn’t believe could be solved by making the government bigger, more powerful, and more intrusive.

    I think there was a time when that was true. But it hasn’t been since the first Clinton administration.

    Now it’s the Republicans who simultaneously increase the cost of government (unfunded wars, Medicare Part D,) and cut government revenues. No one claims the Democrats are paragons of responsibility, but they are compared to the Republicans.

    We at least accept that things should be paid for. At least in theory. We’re not the ones with the magical thinking about self-financing tax cuts. We’re not the ones who said Iraq would pay for itself.

    You’re reacting to a 1970’s-era Democratic Party. It’s long-since gone.

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  20. sam says:

    @Wiley Zels

    “What is the point of a ceiling if you get to keep raising it. It is our credit card they are using.”

    Anybody think Zels will pay back his unemployment?

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  21. mattb says:

    Two thoughts…

    1. In terms of the Tea Party, it seems to make perfect sense that while relatively small, they wield so much power in the House — that seems to me to be a byproduct of the fact that these are smaller, district based elections where the local tea party can have a big effect.(*) Which leads to…

    2. Could the Republican house leadership actually be trying to use this as a way of breaking some of that control? Basically holding off, allowing “real” signs of disaster to start to materialize in order to show that the “tea party” is wrong on this issue and shouldn’t be given so much control?

    (*) – It is interesting to see also how local tea parties and national “tea party organizations” are starting to split on some issues (see the recent move by national tea party orgs endorsing the republican candidate over local tea party candidate Jack Davis in NY 26).
    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/05/soap-opera-special-tea-party-woes-continue-in-ny/238978/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. mattb says:

    Doug,

    Serious (not trick) question on your approach to voting:

    If memory serves, you’ve said that you’ve never voted for a democrat and can’t imagine doing that. You also often post about how many Republicans don’t represent your interests.

    Do you abstain from voting a lot — i.e. vote by not voting for anyone (including the Republican who doesn’t appeal to you)?

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  23. mattb,

    I’ve left a ballot line blank, I’ve voted third party, I’ve written people in. You do what you have to.

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  24. Steve Verdon says:

    So one side, we’ve got the Obama Administration, pretty much every economist on both sides of the aisle, abnd Wall Street and the business community arguing that Congress needs to swallow its pride, raise the debt ceiling, and then go about as if there is no problem.

    There fixed it for you, as that is really what will happen.

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  25. Steve Verdon says:

    Exactly what its Wall Street masters tell it to do.

    What is amusing is that this is exactly what the Democrats want too…so, are we to assume Wall Street is also the master of the Democrats ponce?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. mattb says:

    Doug, I don’t know if you’ve said that explicitly before… but that does make things different. Still don’t agree with the all but ideological “I’ll never vote dem” knee jerk position. But at least you’re not one of the “All republicans suck but I always pull *every* level for them every time.”

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  27. john personna says:

    Funny, Steve “fixes” the story by removing the Republicans as actors in the play.

    Now, I think Dems are just the “less dumb” players, letting Repubs take center stage with “no debt increase, no new taxes,” but center stage seems the “blocking” act right now.

    You can’t fairly tell the story without that.

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  28. john personna says:

    mattb, others, Doug is making a decision that we see a lot in center-right commentators.

    He is choosing the stupid things Republicans are right now, over things he fears Democrats might do in a parallel history.

    Personally, I think you’ve lost the argument when you start to say “never mind this real thing, this imaginary thing is worse.”

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  29. john personna says:

    (It is really a subject for introspection. It’s a big red flag when you make things up to scare yourself, and to confirm your bias.)

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  30. Steve Verdon says:

    Funny, Steve “fixes” the story by removing the Republicans as actors in the play.

    No, I was fixing that part of the story…just that part. By the way, look up the word sarcasm. I’m being sarcastic in that everyone thinks bad things will happen if the debt ceiling is not raised (and they may very well be right). But at the same time, once they raise the debt ceiling and kick the can down the road again, they’ll just go back to business as usual regarding our out of control debt growth, which when you get right down to it is a fairly bipartisan thing (and by that I mean neither side really wants to deal with the issue).

    (It is really a subject for introspection. It’s a big red flag when you make things up to scare yourself, and to confirm your bias.)

    WTFAYTA?

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  31. tom p says:

    Will Republicans Get Sane On The Debt Ceiling?

    To answer your question Doug, “No.”

    I have not met a sane Republican since my mother died. One of the last things she said was, “George W Bush is an idiot.”

    Truth is, as long as none of you conservatives do not disown EVERYTHING that happened under “W”….

    I have no reason to beleive you are conservative, fiscal or otherwise. (look at the graph)

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  32. john personna says:

    No, I was fixing that part of the story…just that part. By the way, look up the word sarcasm. I’m being sarcastic in that everyone thinks bad things will happen if the debt ceiling is not raised (and they may very well be right). But at the same time, once they raise the debt ceiling and kick the can down the road again, they’ll just go back to business as usual regarding our out of control debt growth, which when you get right down to it is a fairly bipartisan thing (and by that I mean neither side really wants to deal with the issue).

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the new and old Republican congressmen were united on the bottom line: CBO projections of deficit and debt?

    It isn’t necessary at all that debt limit raising be accompanied by can kicking. Though, we are pretty much set up for it now. Much drama on center stage, and then a quick deal and a quick kick of the can.

    WTFAYTA?

    Speaking to Doug’s “Because Democrats have never met a situation that they didn’t believe could be solved by making the government bigger, more powerful, and more intrusive.

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  33. Have a nice G.A. says:

    rayD, nice quote you got at that site, can you understand it? “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”
    ~ Albert Einstein

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  34. anjin-san says:

    Albert Einstein

    pssssst. GA… start respecting scientists and you will have to turn in your wingnut secret decoder ring.

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  35. anjin-san says:

    “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

    Albert Einstein

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  36. [...] now, it’s about the debt ceiling.  Dave Mataconis from Outside the Beltway wrote: Outside the [...]

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  37. sam says:

    That piece that Doug links to, Special report: Stuck between the Tea Party and a hard place, is really, really worth reading, especially the section, ‘OUR WAR NOW IS WITH THE REPUBLICANS':

    Irrespective of their immersion on local politics, however, the Tea Party movement has maintained its laser focus on the national political scene.

    Despite their fervent opposition to Obama’s health reform, few appear impressed by the symbolic vote in January in the House to repeal the law — it never stood a chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, let alone reached Obama’s desk.

    “That vote was just so Republicans could go home and campaign by saying they voted to repeal Obamacare,” said Paul Keith, chairman of the Bowling Green Southern Kentucky Tea Party. “That vote was meaningless, it was crap.”

    “The things that matter to us are what the Republicans control. Where if they don’t cooperate, there is no deal.”

    The fiscal 2011 budget was one such thing. In their “Pledge to America” the party promised spending cuts of $100 billion “in the first year alone and putting us on a path to begin paying down the debt, balancing the budget, and ending the spending spree in Washington.”

    Not only did Tea Party members around the country note which Republicans voted for the 2011 budget — especially those who ran as fiscal conservatives last year — they are also aware of the 59 Republicans who voted against it.

    Tea Party members in Ohio, for instance, know three House Republicans held the Tea Party line — Jim Jordan, Steve Chabot and Jean Schmidt — while nine did not, including Boehner.

    For some Tea Party groups the budget was too much. So they want to target RINOs — Republicans In Name Only, a pejorative term conservatives use for moderate Republicans.

    “There isn’t any urgency among the establishment Republicans,” said Phillip Dennis of the Dallas Tea Party. “They just don’t get that we elected them not because we love them, but only because they weren’t Democrats.”

    “Our war now is with the Republican Party,” he added. “We need to send home a whole boatload of RINOs.”

    So far the only high-profile attempt to “primary” a moderate Republican in 2012 is Indiana, where conservative state treasurer Richard Mourdock is challenging Senator Dick Lugar, who has steadfastly refused to change his views.

    But others are mentioned as possible. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is one, though no challenger has yet come forward. Tea Party groups in a number of states are eyeing potential candidates for House races, but say their searches are still in the early stages.

    Perhaps the highest-profile member of the House whom Tea Partiers hope to unseat is Eric Cantor. Karen Hurd of the Virginia Tea Party Alliance is working on a two-pronged strategy to challenge him. The House Majority leader is considered conservative by many, but Hurd says he is a RINO.

    When you have a political “movement” that deems Eric Cantor and Orin Hatch RINOs, you have a political movement that has well and truly slipped the surly bounds of earth. In way, I suppose, the GOP deserves this. As a party, it has cultivated the aginers since Reagan. Simple justice, then, that it be eaten by the wolves it’s fed for so long.

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  38. TG Chicago says:

    so, are we to assume Wall Street is also the master of the Democrats ponce?

    Can’t speak for ponce, but that’s what I’ve long assumed. If we can’t get meaningful financial regulation made into law right after a calamitous collapse, then we never will. Reinstating Glass-Steagall is a no-brainer, but neither party is willing to get behind it. Both parties deserve blame for the next financial disaster, since they didn’t clean up after the last one.

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  39. Herb says:

    Because Democrats have never met a situation that they didn’t believe could be solved by making the government bigger, more powerful, and more intrusive

    Except for the gays who want to serve in the military….

    The “bigger, more powerful, more intrusive” government thing is supported by both political parties. It’s just a matter of perspective.

    And if you really want to get down to it, the “bigger, more powerful, more intrusive” government thing is a feature of the professional bureaucracy, who gets to do all the impossible jobs –seal the border, pay all these old people– we expect them to do.

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  40. Have a nice G.A. says:

    “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

    Albert Einstein

    I am left handed,and I respect scientists that are not indoctrinated and or are no longer indoctrinated:)

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  41. ken says:

    Will Republicans Get Sane On The Debt Ceiling?

    I don’t think it is reasonable to expect insane crazies to act sane and rational. I am serious about my characterization of conservatives as mostly nuts.

    Upon close examination I believe that any reasonable person would conclude that in judging the political behavior of conservatives that they behave without any foundation in reality. The evidence for this is overwhelming.

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  42. [...] on both sides of the aisle,” as well as “Wall Street and the business community,” says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. Republicans will have to “swallow hard” and do the right thing by raising the debt [...]

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