Pessimism Concerning the House

The main problem remains the House.

Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein notes:  The problem in a nutshell? House can’t pass jack

The United States Government reached statutory debt limit in May. We’re now a week away from exhausting every way around that, at least according to the Treasury Department. And the House of Representatives has not passed a debt limit extension. They haven’t passed a clean one, and they haven’t passed one with conditions. It seems highly unlikely to me that Speaker Boehner’s plan to raise the debt limit in stages will pass the House. Indeed, after months of wrangling, there still doesn’t seem to be any plan that can pass the House.

So far, the closest they’ve come was in passing their Cut, Cap, and Balance scheme, but that did not include a debt limit increase; it only contained a commitment to do so if, among other things, Congress sent a specific Balanced Budget Amendment to the states. And yet CCB passed by a slim partisan margin, not even getting close — in the GOP-controlled House! — to the two-thirds needed to pass an Amendment and send it on to the states.

This is actually quite important.  Many, myself included, have treated Cut, Cap, and Balance as if it contained a provision to raise the debt ceiling.  Bernstein is right:  it did not.  Rather, it contained a means to achieve a vote on that subject, rather than directly addressing it.  And, of course, because CCB was never going to pass the Senate (and even if it did, the Balanced Budget Amendment was never going to pass anyway) the notion that CCB represented a legit method to avert the debt ceiling crisis is a bogus one.

The fundamental problem is this:

even if the House constituted the sole branch of government, it’s really not clear that the Republicans who run it could figure out a way to get the debt limit increased.

This is a rather unfortunate place for us to be in at the moment, especially since we basically have a week to solve the problem.   And, as Bernstein notes (and as I have in several posts over the last week or so) there are many in the House GOP caucus who either think that not raising the debt limit would be no big deal (e.g., Bachmann) and other who actually think it would be a good thing.  This is not a recipe for a solution, to be sure.

As Chris Wilson of Slate (via Kevin Drum) shows us, Treasury is almost out of cash:

The numbers above are from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

It would appear that the markets still think that rationality will prevail and an agreement will be reached.  We will find out shortly.

Really, this is not at all an extreme position regarding the House, as we all know that there are members of the GOP caucus who have rejected the Boehner Plan (see here).  The notion that the Speaker of the House cannot get his own plan through the House of Representatives as a deadline looms is truly remarkable.  Boehner may be the weakest Speaker in recent memory.

FILED UNDER: Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    I almost feel sorry for Boehner. He can’t control the uncontrollable insane members of the Republican house. At this point he has to come up with a plan that all of the Democrats and enough Republicans will agree to. That may be a straight debt level increase. That of course will be the end of his tenure as Speaker of the House but I think Boehner is a responsible man who will do the responsible thing. In addition he is probably getting really tired of the job anyway. You can’t deal with lunatics – when Boehner and Obama finally figure that out we may have a deal.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    What’s amazing is what the GOP walked away from…a deal apparently to the right of both Bush 41’s budget deal and Clintons ’93 deal.
    Obviously we have no idea how this ends…but I don’t see the Grand Bargain getting done. So no matter what happens they end up with less than they could have had. That is, unless your sole motivation is to protect the historically low tax rates and gut entitlements. Then they’ve seemingly only been half successful. And the Bush cuts are still scheduled to expire.

  3. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Ron Beasley: “I think Boehner is a responsible man who will do the responsible thing.” To quote the line from the John Hughes movie:

    “I wouldn’t count on that.”

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    @A voice from another precinct: I should probably expand on that. His corporate keepers don’t want the economy to collapse and he is responsibly trying to avoid it.

  5. Brutalfacts says:

    Its always darlest before the dawn….and its pretty damn dark….

    At what point is it OK for a sane Republican to run away from the Tea Party? Its going to have to happen at some point. Guys like Lugar are not going to win their primary playing on Tea Party turf, they are going to have to distance themselves to win. Present themseves as…well….sane. For this to turn the stark contrasts are not going to be R vs D but withing the Republican Party.

    Boehner is a dead man walking as Speaker. He has to know this. His choice becomes clear, does he want to be the guy led the Nation to default and all the economic uglyness that will folllow, or does he want to do the right thing, fall on his sword, call the Tea Party out and throw them under the bus. Make it OK for sane Repubilcans (and we have many, polls show rank and file Republicans support the “balanced approch”) to follow? Unless something like this is done at best we get very short term stopgap measures which are damaging or we default.

    Boehner’s political heart is not with the Tea Party, nor is the heart of Big Business, most Senate Republicans, almost all former Republican leaders and dare I say a Majority of House Republicans not swept up on the 2010 Tea Party wave. At some point it will becone a political asset to reject the nuts (much like it was for Dems following the 1972 elections, the start of the Democratic Party move to the middle).

    I also cannot believe the Limbaughs, the Norquists, the FOX Newsers of the world want it to end this way. Their influance declines once their crazy rantings are fact, nowhere to go but down. They feed off the discontent and really don’t want a future when their so called “ideals” come to pass (and fail). I still believe this will get solved in some way we don’t quite know yet because the loss of political influance and political capital to the GOP and its real base will be unacceptable.

    I could be wrong however….

  6. Pete says:


    when their so called “ideals” come to pass (and fail).

    Their ideals are the foundation of how this country became so rich and powerful. It certainly wasn’t the ideals of statism, collectivisim and socialism: ideals favored by proponents of bigger government. Alas, the Republican Party was drawn in by the sirens of government largesse and now is being challenged by those who believe the old ideals can become the guiding principles of the future. So I’m not sure the old ideals would fail as much as they likely could not gain a foothold in a vastly different world we live in today. I think the distinction is important.

    The ideals espoused by Limbaugh, are better suited to human liberty, personal accountability and free thought than ideals favored by those who cede their personal accountability to others. If you believe the people who are running this country are competent enough to direct your life, you are to be pitied.

  7. @Pete: You do know that the Constitutional Convention was called to find a way to pay off the bondholders, right?


  8. Anderson says:

    Soooo, the Dems have a plan — is there any question the Senate could pass the Reid plan and Obama would sign it? — and the Repubs have … what, exactly? Not a plan.

    Obama will of course fail to seize on this as evidence for the public of which side’s at fault here, but it’s evident nonetheless.

  9. john personna says:


    This country is more than 200 years old, and I think if you look at the real go-go years of American growth and prosperity, you’ll see a mixed economy. It was never the kind of absolute free market that the far right has demanded … really just in the last 20 years.

    I think that shift in demands comes out of the fall of communism and a misinterpretation of what it means. We were never communist. We were always prosperous. And yet our left moved right, and our right moved righter.

    In a weird way, as others here have observed, it made our left conservatives and our right revolutionaries.

    Why not return to what we know works, and makes us prosperous in America?

  10. hey norm says:

    Pete prefers that Limbaugh and Hannity and Erik Erikson run his life. How anyone would be proud to be called a dittohead is beyond me…but there you are.

  11. john personna says:

    Oh, I also think it’s a fair criticism that the recent “free market” banner has been a blind for corporatism. The Tea Party may say they are angry about bailouts, but they never lift one finger to keep the corporates in line.

  12. Stan says:

    We’ve been following Pete’s ideas for the last 30 years. We’ve been cutting taxes on the wealthy, spending less on social welfare, and curbing the power of unions, all so that our corporations can run their businesses more profitably. As a result, we have the greatest inequality since before the Great Depression, a middle class that can’t buy consumer goods because they lack discretionary income, and an upper class awash in money. Pete wants more of the same. Wasn’t it Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

  13. john personna says:


    We’ve been following Pete’s ideas for the last 30 years.

    I’d quibble on the start date. Reagan was not really that extreme, and GHWB was not ideological at all. He didn’t even believe in “voodoo economics.”

  14. john personna says:

    (I put the start sometime in 2000, when GWB took his slim victory as “mandate” for evangelical and free-market revolution. That might be key actually, that while Reagan and GHWB took the evangelical vote, they didn’t really look to them for policy.)

  15. Eric Florack says:

    Here’s a concept; they are representing correctly the wishes of their districts.

    Yes, indeedy. Damn those house members for doing exactly what they were elected and sent to do.

  16. mantis says:

    Damn those house members for doing exactly what they were elected and sent to do.

    F*ck up the economy? Great job, GOP! Way to hustle!

  17. ratufa says:

    @Eric Florack:

    I agree with you, Eric. They very likely are representing the wishes of their constituencies. The funny thing is that their constituencies are also opposed to cutting spending on Defense, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. If the debt ceiling is not raised, spending for some of those programs will be cut. That’s just the way the numbers work out. There will also be other cuts that their constituencies won’t be happy about.

    Quite the dilemma, if you’re a Republican Congressman.

    Support for my claims about what their constituencies want:

  18. JohnMcC says:

    Just can’t stop beating this dead horse. But, Mr Personna, Mr Bush actually lost the vote of the American people in that 2000 race by quite a bit. The popular vote totals (if one trusts Wikipedia) were 50,456,002 to 50,999,897. And it was the determination of the ‘originalists’ of the Supreme Court that the Constitution gives the federal gov’t the power to determine whether Florida had the right to re-count it’s ballots that gave that office to Mr Bush. So you are actually correct that he won by a ‘slim margin’; the vote was 5 to 4.


  19. george says:

    Their ideals are the foundation of how this country became so rich and powerful. It certainly wasn’t the ideals of statism, collectivisim and socialism: ideals favored by proponents of bigger government.

    Big gov’t, as in big military (unless they’re proposing having a military not paid for by tax dollars – perhaps on a looting basis)? You do realize one of our foundations was to not get involved in overseas wars? A huge saving would be to have a military strong enough to defend ourselves, rather than one aimed at policing the world.