A tidal wave of Stupid washed over Washington DC on Thursday night, and when the sun rose on Friday to shine on the calendar of doom - four days left until default - it became all too evident that a manufactured crisis had suddenly transformed into a very, very real one.
House Speaker Boehner attempted to ram through a draconian debt-limit bill in order to force Senate Democrats to reject it - more theater, of course - but found himself unable to control his own caucus. After a feverish day-long attempt to whip enough votes to pass the measure, Boehner's Tea Party right flank told him to take his bill, fold it, spindle it, and shove it where the orange don't reach.
Boehner, in a moment of almost pure humiliation, was forced to pull his own bill. The markets opened down on Friday morning, and his inability to wrangle his own people not only put his Speakership in mortal peril, but also threatened to spook the financial world into a meltdown, as reports of a slowing economy arrived with the same news of his epic flameout.
Ezra Klein of the Washington Post saw it this way:
The lengths John Boehner went to ensure his bill failed in the Senate rather than the House were impressive, but ultimately, insufficient. Quotes from 'The Town' didn't work. Endorsements from major conservative outlets didn't work. Arm-twisting didn't work. The bill will likely be revised today in order to pass, but the damage is done. The legislation, which never had a chance in Harry Reid's Senate, was meant to send a message: Republicans are united. They are willing to sacrifice and compromise to raise the debt ceiling. Turns out they're not.
Last night's vote was a referendum on Boehner, but it had little to do with reaching an actual deal. So the optimistic spin is that the GOP's failure will move the Republican leadership to embrace the bipartisan strategy they were always going to have to adopt at the end. The pessimistic spin is that they now know pushing a compromise bill through the House could truly harm their careers and will hide from it. But they can only hide for so long. That's the problem with being in the leadership. Eventually, you have to lead.
Ah, yes, leadership. I seem to remember that word used to mean something.
So here we are, and no one is quite sure what happens next. Boehner could go back to the drawing board and tack to the left in order to pull in moderate Democratic House votes for his bill. Whatever he passes will likely be a stinking pile of brutal austerity, but it might have enough grease to get through the Senate and on to the president's desk, and what happens then is anyone's guess. Or - and this is more likely - he might tack to the right to pull in the Tea Party House members who balked at his first bill because they don't like Pell grants. His other motivation to pursue this avenue is the fact that his chair is getting very hot, Rep. Cantor is breathing over his shoulder, and going to the right would serve to shore up his flank. That bill will die a swift death in the Senate, and we'll all be back to the drawing board with the clock running low. They could pass some temporary Band-Aid measure that solves nothing at all, kicking the can into election season and further ignominy.
There are two other potential resolutions that no one in power is really talking about yet. House and Senate leadership in both parties could come to see that no House bill will pass in the Senate, no Senate bill will pass in the House, and pretty much anything they do manage to come up with will be veto bait right out of the gate. Upon reaching this conclusion, they could decide to do away with all the theater and posturing that has defined this disgraceful episode and pass a clean debt-limit bill, thus ending the "crisis" in one fell swoop.
But we are talking about politicians, and in this case, we're talking about politicians who have been posturing so vigorously that they might not be able to back down. In that event, should the House and Senate find themselves unable to get out of their own way, Mr. Obama could be forced to deploy the 14th Amendment remedy, an option provided to him by Sections Four and Five. If this happens, the issue will wind up in the courts, and it is entirely possible that the House wackadoos might fire up an impeachment movement against him just in time for the election season...which will be both highly entertaining and utterly destructive in equal measure.
All we know for sure is that John Boehner and a cardboard cutout of John Boehner don't have a dime's worth of difference between them. This clown is going to go down as one of the most useless Speakers in modern American history, and it will be a perfect miracle if he manages to hold his seat at the head of the class.
We are surrounded by idiots, showboats, bastards and fools. They ginned up this "crisis," and now the cart is charging toward a cliff. Only one thing is certain: the answer will be upon us in four days, one way or another.