Thursday, July 28, 2011


"The House began debate and a vote was expected early this evening, with Republican leaders confident of winning over enough holdouts to pass their plan, which would make $900 billion in cuts, raise the debt ceiling for a few months, and come back for more of the same later. But Senate Democratic leaders said that if that happened they would waste no time rejecting the legislation.

"Leaders of both parties and in both chambers said that it was essential to avoid a default on the federal debt, but that was practically all they agreed on." From the NY Times, today, July 28, 2011.

So the question is why does Boehner want to pass a debt ceiling package that will not pass the Senate? Or to put this differently, why pass such a package when he knows it will not do anything and cannot do anything to get a deal done? Or, still differently, why is Boehner not interested in actually governing, but is content to "play games" or engage in gamesmanship?

And if you say this is strategy on Boehner's part, what is that strategy? What is to be gained as a result of this action?

And although I cannot answer these questions to my own satisfaction, I will say that the answers one provides depends upon how one understands the actions of our politicians. That is, if you think that Boehner's primary concern is actually governing according to a set of principles he deems fundamental, then his "strategy" is really no strategy at all. Rather, it is merely an action, known in advance to be futile, that is meant to endorse these principles, even though this endorsement will do nothing or have little or no consequences. However, if you consider the possibility that Boehner has over concerns, say, more parochial concerns, then it is possible to see this as a "strategy" that is meant achieve certain results. What results could Boehner want to achieve, if we exclude legislative consequences? Does he want to try to showup the President or the Senate, that is, the Democrats in the Senate by forcing them to vote this option down? That has a certain plausibility to it. But it should be asked, What does this achieve? Does this make it more likely that the Republicans will gain as a result of a Senate or presidential veto? At the present moment, the answer to this question would seem to be "No," because most the American people seem to want some kind of settlement, almost any kind of settlement, because they sense that this situation could be resolved rather easily if politicians would stop "playing politics."

So, it remains, at least to me, to be seen what Boehner is about, what his objectives are. And I would just point out that our commonly accepted understandings of how our politicians behave do not provide very persuasive explanations at this point. So, it would seem that whatever is going in D.C. right now, we don't really understand. And this in itself is interesting.

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