Republican leaders have got themselves stuck in a weird rhetorical position. Some in their base are still convinced the debt limit is a great leverage point, but it was only ever useful because President Obama was trying to come up with a clever way to get Democrats to betray their base in a grand bargain. Now that Obama has taken a firm “no negotiation” position the debt limit is not actually useful for Republicans and the smarter Republicans leaders know this.
So the Republican leadership must now keep their base happy by talking about how unreasonable it is that Obama is not going to negotiate over the debt limit, while also making it clear to they are not actually going to destroy the economy just to make some political point. Simply admitting they were idiots last time is not an option.
The result is carefully phrased answers like this from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Fox News Sunday:
All of those would be important steps in the right direction. We need not have a default — we’re never going to default. The speaker and I made that clear. We’ve never done that.
But it’s irresponsible not to use the discussion, the request of the president to raise the debt ceiling, to try to accomplish something for the country.
The important part is McConnell confirming there will be no default. The rest is all just political bluster.
Over the next few weeks we will hear a fair amount about how Republican might demand building the Keystone XL pipeline or ending the ACA risk corridors for a debt ceiling increase but that is all just talk. No one is seriously going believe Republicans would threaten the entire economy over a pipeline or to deny a some insurers a few million. You can’t make a huge threat for such a small ask.