How This Round of Debt Limit Kabuki Will End

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 4 2014 11:48 AM

How This Round of Debt Limit Kabuki Will End

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Dave Camp, cross-armed and tight-lipped.

Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images

The news coming out of today's House Republican conference meeting was the plan to raise the debt limit. There is no plan. Last week's retreat was a chance for Republicans to talk this over, and for conservatives led by Sen. Steve Scalise to make a pitch for ending the Obamacare "risk corridors" in any deal. Today was another give-us-your-ideas rap session.

"It's important to have discussions about it," said Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, studiously avoiding any particular confirmation of any particular debt limit add-ons as he left the meeting. "It takes some time, and it's worth doing."

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Other Republican leaders left the meeting by offering similarly noncommittal spin. The reason for this was pretty clear: The party didn't actually expect to get anything from the debt limit vote. The conservative wing fully expects a sellout; the less conservative wing wants to make Democrats vote to fund Obamacare again (that could be achieved by having them refuse to defund risk corridors), but is ready to accept the Senate's inevitable move to split the riders from the debt limit.

"I think we should just let the Democrats own the debt ceiling," shrugged Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, "so we can go back to our constituents and explain to them: They don't want reform, and we do."

So: Keep calm, markets! Janet Yellen is ensconced at the Fed; the Republicans are only putting up as much of a fight over the debt limit as they have to. The energy of the base/outside groups has moved elsewhere—there's nothing like the 2011 campaign, by a coalition of conservatives, to demand specific policies for any debt limit hike.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.