So after acceding Tuesday that they’ll raise the debt limit one way or another, Republicans are now accusing President Obama of holding the debt limit hostage. Fine. It’s pretty clumsy as rhetorical jiu jitsu goes, but fine.
For this argument to be persuasive, though, these same Republicans must omit the fact that they were using the debt limit as a weapon in an ideological fight just 24 hours ago.
But that’s exactly what Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) — an articulate freshman, beloved by conservatives — just did. Specifically, he told a scrum of reporters outside a GOP steering committee meeting that President Obama’s the mustache-twirling villain of the debt limit wars…just after lamenting the GOP’s loss of leverage in its pursuit of a Balanced Budget Amendment.
“Why is the President willing to push us into a debt-ceiling induced financial shortfall by virtue of the fact that he’s not willing to convince his party to support a balanced budget amendment?” Lee asked rhetorically.
He took some heat from the assembled reporters for trying to turn the tables on the Democrats, and did his best to argue the point. But his biggest problem was that he’d just finished explaining why his caucus leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), had ruined the party’s chances of using the very same debt ceiling to advance long-sought conservative goals.
“I fear that we could easily lose the bargaining power that would enable us to get to that point if we signal in advance, ‘by the way if we don’t get what we want, here’s what we’re going to do. If we don’t get what we want, we’ll just give you guys what you want,’” Lee said. “No one would ever try to do that in trying to settle litigation. No one would ever signal to a military opponent, ‘if we don’t get what we want we’re just going to retreat and give you what you’re seeking.’ I don’t know why we’d want to do that here.”
To get a balanced budget amendment in this environment…we’d have to make the serious, credible, earnest threat that if you want to raise it and you want to have any Republicans voting for raising it, you’re going to have to assist us: You give us 20 votes to adopt the balanced budget amendment in the Senate and we’ll make sure you get the votes you need to raise the debt limit.
Those two arguments are impossible to square.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.