A Big Thank-You To Pat Toomey…

…who is the first Republican in Washington with the stones to say what is absolutely necessary to say.

Namely, that it’s time to start preparing the country for a government shutdown at the end of February.

Toomey was on Morning Joe today telling the truth to the American people…

This from a guy who did not vote against the fiscal cliff deal. Toomey voted for it, which was a bad vote. Not an inexcusably bad vote, because once Mitch McConnell got finished with selling out the Republican position on the fiscal cliff that in exchange for a tax hike on 77 percent of the American people there should at least have been some effort at real spending cuts there was no good vote left. You either voted for tax increases on 77 percent of the American people or you voted for larger increases on a larger number of people.

But because Toomey voted for the deal, Toomey can say what he’s saying with centrist credibility. You can’t just paint him as some far-right Tea Party obstructionist. He bent on taxes and as such he now has some “street cred” in Washington big-government circles.

Obama was going to get his tax increase, because Obama was the guy willing to walk away from the table and see taxes go up on everybody. The guy who wins a negotiation is ALWAYS the guy who doesn’t need the deal. The guy who has to have the deal is the one who’ll do anything to get it.

The Republicans needed the deal on the fiscal cliff. Obama didn’t.

The debt limit is something else. Obama needs a debt limit increase. The Republicans don’t.

They need to embrace the fact that they don’t.

Republicans are the party of self-governance. Republicans are the people who pay taxes rather than take government handouts. Republicans are the people who can take care of themselves. If the federal government had to shut down, it would be Democrats who’d suffer, not Republicans.

This was the attitude Obama took on the fiscal cliff. He wanted rich people to take it square in the pooper, and he was going to get that increase no matter who got hurt. If the Republicans are willing to take the same attitude toward Democrat Obama voters who feed at the Washington trough, they’ll get something of value out of the debt limit fight.

This requires a sea change in thinking inside the Beltway GOP, though. Because too many of the Hill Republicans think their fate is tied to what the Washington Post, New York Times, NBC News and POLITICO say about them. And if you come out and say that we don’t have any more money to pay for endless unemployment benefits or six-figure salaries for faceless paper-pushers in federal bureaucracies or Social Security benefits for Warren Buffett, you’ll get clobbered by the left-wing Washington media establishment.

But most of the Hill Republicans don’t come from places where their constituents read the Washington Post and New York Times. If they understood that they’d laugh at the Washington Post and New York Times and say to their reporters and pundits, “Do your worst, asshole. My constituents will love me all the more if you write nasty things about me.”

Winning the debt limit fight means adopting this attitude. It means having hundreds of Hill Republicans echoing what Toomey just said.

John Boehner, who according to a congressman I talked to just a few minutes ago will be re-elected as Speaker of the House based on a promise he made to the GOP caucus that he’ll listen to the members rather than negotiate with himself in Obama’s presence behind closed doors (apparently Boehner is a slow learner, but he now promises that he can in fact learn), needs to adopt this attitude.

Boehner needs to announce on Friday that he doesn’t have the votes to pass a debt limit increase. That there’s nothing he can do about it – that his members are so despondent about Washington culture and the broken budget process that they feel like there is no other tool available to make positive change other than hitting the debt ceiling and forcing a government shutdown. And that the reason they feel this way is that Obama has repeatedly said he won’t even accept a negotiation on spending cuts within the framework of the debt limit, and that Obama is going around claiming he’s cut spending by a trillion dollars. That his members have seen this and don’t believe they have a serious negotiating partner, so only the most outlandish and stringent measures offer hope to improve the situation.

He needs to announce this, and then he needs to repeat it for two solid months. He needs to acknowledge that people think he’s a squish, that he comes from a legislative tradition whereby you make the best deal you can because that’s what the public sent you into office to do, but that we’re so far gone that he’s not even the issue anymore. He needs to say that Obama has deluded himself into thinking just because he won the election that the American people don’t care about the deficit but that there is a majority of people in Congress elected by districts for whom federal spending and debt and the effect of those on the economy and the culture is the single most important issue in America. And that those voters, who are every bit the majority that Obama thinks he cajoled into voting for him, are speaking very clearly in demanding this problem be fixed, and right now.

And Boehner needs to be repeating this message over and over as he passes a raft of bills designed to prioritize federal spending in the case of a partial government shutdown. Because a failure to increase the debt limit does NOT mean a total shutdown. It means that Washington has to run on the money that comes in. It means Washington can’t borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends anymore, and that Washington has to run a balanced budget.

So pass a bill guaranteeing that Social Security payments will go out. That the troops will be paid. And that interest on the federal debt will be paid.

And tell Harry Reid that he’d better pass that in the Senate, because the votes in the House for a debt limit increase aren’t there. And if he doesn’t want to see economic chaos, he’d better insure we have a fail-safe in place or it’s going to be Reid – and Obama – who are at fault if it all goes to hell.

Boehner should make sure to say “Look, this isn’t about me. I can do a deal to increase the debt limit in exchange for something I can bring back to my people. But my people have no trust for Obama or Reid left, and they think it’s time for a reckoning. And I can’t prevent this – all I can do is resign and the next Speaker will be somebody even more hard-line than I am. And before you start screaming about the crazy Tea Party people who are holding the country hostage, understand that this is the vast majority of our membership, and they’re reflecting what they’re hearing from the vast majority of their constituents. This has gone far beyond the Tea Party, and you need to recognize that reality.”

The media will do polls which say nobody cares about the deficit or that the debt limit ought to just be raised. Boehner should scoff at them and say his members are convinced otherwise.

If he says it consistently enough and if he holds House hearings often enough in which witnesses show up and explain that there are ways to do partial shutdowns which won’t kill the economy, he can get the public used to the idea that hitting the debt limit isn’t the end of the world and it might just be the only way to really rein in spending over Obama’s objections.

Republicans hold all the cards on the coming fight. Their history is of dropping those cards on the floor. If the party wants to continue being relevant at the federal level, that needs to change. They need to develop a message, stick to it, act proactively and show some stones.

Otherwise Boehner will have nothing to take back to Republican voters. And he’ll be out of his Speakership by 2015 – and not because some crazy Tea Partier managed to unseat him from the Right, it will be because the GOP has lost its majority in the House.

Boehner needs to repeat that every single day. He needs to let the media beat on him and the House GOP delegation and say “Sorry, the votes just aren’t there. The American people want the budget balanced, so do my members, and the debt limit is the only tool available to make it happen. It’s sad it’s come to this, but there it is. Obama got his tax increase, now we’re getting our spending cuts – the easy way or the hard way. If Obama wants his debt ceiling increase he needs to send us a proposal that we can pass.”

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