Today's Update on the Fake Debt Limit Fight

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 5 2014 3:58 PM

Today's Update on the Fake Debt Limit Fight

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John Boehner has sense enough to realize "there’s no sense picking a fight we can’t win."

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, after I quoted some Republicans I'd talked to and pronounced the current debt limit fight "kabuki," Daniel Newhauser got more details from inside the GOP's sad meeting. "There’s no sense picking a fight we can’t win," Boehner told his troops. "They seem to think we would come out with the same negative publicity that we came out of with regard to the government shutdown," said Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey. Newhauser has more today:

The problem is that between members’ far-flung demands, there is no consensus about one add-on that could bring the conference together. Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, meanwhile, said he would like to see a fix to Medicare’s sustainable growth rate, which helps control the program’s spending on physician services. And Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said that he and others would prefer a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
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That's in addition to the push by Rep. Tim Griffin to end "risk corridors" in this bill, and the zombielike campaign to force the Keystone XL pipeline though. Here's the overarching problem. The Republicans need only 217 votes to pass a debt limit increase. (They normally need 218, but there are few vacant seats now, lowering the threshold.) Theoretically, they could lose 15 votes on their own side and pass whatever debt limit bill they wanted. But we're on round four of this fight, in the modern debt-limit-as-crisis-point era, and Republicans can't convince those last few dozen conservatives that it's worth voting to raise the limit. There are too few Republicans who feel external pressure to raise it.

Let's focus on the risk corridor portion of this. It's been three months since Marco Rubio called the risk corridor an "Obamacare bailout" and suggested ending it. It's been a month or so since conservative intellectuals like Ramesh Ponnuru and Charles Krauthammer got behind the idea, and a month since a coalition of conservative groups (FreedomWorks, etc.) demanded Republicans end the "bailout." It's been five days since the retreat where Republicans talked about this. And they can't get the votes. They can't convince 217 people that, yes, this is a good thing to attach to the debt limit in order to get leverage.

UPDATE: Ponnuru clarifies that he likes the idea of killing the "risk corridors," but doesn't want to make this part of the debt limit bill.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.