Ever see the Al Pacino movie, "Dog Day Afternoon?" Based on a true story, it's about a bank robbery that goes bad. When it becomes clear that the jig is up — that there's not much money to be had and they're surrounded by police — the list of demands gets truly outrageous, including a limousine to the airport and a jet to fly them out of the country.
That appears to be exactly what's happening in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now that it's clear that they're getting nowhere by threatening a government shutdown on Oct. 1 unless Obamacare is defunded, Republicans are looking to shoot the proverbial moon.
Forget the small potatoes of the continuing resolution, now they want to take the debt ceiling hostage, and their potential demands read like the right-wing's bucket list — not only to delay implantation of the Affordable Care Act for one year but to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, set a timetable for tax reform, block greenhouse gas regulations, reduce civil service pensions, eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and on and on. That it doesn't require the president of the United States to kneel in submission to General Zod of Krypton suggests only a lack of imagination (and perhaps that their membership isn't part of the Comic-Con crowd).
House leaders say stuffing the measure with all these "goodies" is the only way they can muster the votes to raise the federal debt limit by $1.1 trillion. Really? The GOP is so captured by wild-eyed fanatics that they'll plunge the nation into default, substantially raising the debt for many years to come, until everyone gives in to their demands?
Why don't they close the Capitol building and take the tourists hostage while they're at it? And that's not flagrant hyperbole compared to Sen. Todd Cruz likening those who allowed the health care reform law to pass and Germans who allowed Adolph Hitler to rise to power. It's getting increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the harm Republicans seem intent on inflicting the nation and any personal injury they might want to cause the innocent bystander.
Let's have a brief review. Raising the debt ceiling is not a matter of approving more spending. It's about how much borrowing the U.S. Treasury can do to meet existing obligations. Default is saying we won't pay our bills. It not only leads to a shutdown of government services but it tells creditors that the U.S. is not a reliable debtor, and that could raise borrowing costs enormously.
So there's no victory to be had here, only levels of harm to be inflicted — unless, of course, Republicans truly believe that the Democrats will capitulate. But why should they? It would merely reinforce the House GOP strategy of hostage-taking. Even if Republicans reduced their demands to delaying Obamacare, any willingness by President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats to reward the GOP's extreme tactics would merely solidify them as somehow acceptable, and we'd get more of the same.
And make no mistake, this is hostage-taking. Congress has a way to deal with matters from Keystone to Obamacare. They are called bills. Sometimes they pass, sometimes they fail. But they generally rely on the House and Senate considering proposals, debating them and then voting on their merits. The democratic process doesn't involve telling opponents that you will plunge the nation into another economic recession if they fail to comply with your laundry list of demands.
The Republican list of demands merely demonstrates the absurdity of their position. That Speaker John A. Boehner and others in House leadership are sitting somewhere in a room on Capital Hill actually thinking this is going to get them somewhere — the equivalent of a limousine ride to the airport and a jet to wherever — makes the comparison to "Dog Day Afternoon" complete.
Here's an idea. Why don't they listen to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, at least a dozen Republican senators, the Wall Street Journal and GOP strategists like Karl Rove and Steve Schmidt and abandon their self-destructive crusade against Obamacare? Either the program won't work (and it can then be repealed) or it will work (in which case the country is better off). Put the U.S. into default and Obamacare still goes forward, but the lasting economic harm that comes from this maneuver will be remembered at the polls in 2014 and beyond.