To really understand the debt ceiling debate, I think you need to know the following things:
— House Speaker John Boehner favors raising the debt ceiling.
— President Barack Obama favors raising the debt ceiling.
— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid favors raising the debt ceiling.
— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell favors raising the debt ceiling.
— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi favors raising the debt ceiling.
Under the circumstances, the solution to the deadlock is for a bipartisan bill to pass the House with the support of both Boehner and Pelosi, and to pass the Senate with the support of both Reid and McConnell, and then to be signed into law by Obama. Everyone can slap themselves on the back and then we can return to debating the (large!) number of issues about which these five formidable political leaders disagree.
Instead, Boehner is trying to insist that we simultaneously debate topics on which they disagree and topics on which they agree. So for example Boehner voted earlier this year to eliminate Medicare, then replace Medicare with vouchers to provide private health insurance, and then to steadily cut the value of those vouchers each and every year until the end of time. Neither Pelosi nor Reid nor Obama likes that idea, and many Senator Republicans also don’t seem to like it. So the only way for Boehner to get steep cuts in Medicare enacted is either to elect more similar-thinking politicians in 2012, or else persuade Obama and Reid to back an initiative they oppose. His tactic for doing so is to claim that he’ll refuse to increase the debt ceiling—even though he favors increasing the debt ceiling—unless Obama and Reid agree to spending cuts they oppose.
This doesn’t make any logical sense whatsoever, and it makes it basically impossible to evaluate the status of Boehner’s demands. Making it even stranger, while Boehner is insisting on a quantitative figure for overall spending cuts, he’s not insisting on any particular spending cuts. The implication is that Boehner thinks all programs are of exactly equivalent value. It’s not that he sees certain programs as wasteful or counterproductive and wants to eliminate them on those grounds. It’s just that he wants rich people to pay lower taxes, and is interested in whatever spending cuts to whatever programs—no matter how valuable or important those programs may be—make it possible for rich people to pay less.