Cantor did add one strange wrinkle, but it had nothing to do with the debt limit. The wrinkle was this: "Members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job. No budget, no pay."
More on the substance of that in a second, but Cantor's statement said nothing about holding the debt limit hostage in order to turn the "no budget, no pay" slogan into a piece of legislation. Aside from being just plain weird, demanding that in exchange for a debt limit increase would be a bait-and-switch: Cantor announced House Republicans were raising the debt limit. He didn't say he was changing their ransom note. If you announce you're releasing the hostage, and you want to get credit for releasing the hostage, you really need to release the damn hostage.
It would be a stunningly stupid move for Republicans to pull, but let's say Eric Cantor was indeed pulling a bait-and-switch. What then? Well, according to Greg Sargent, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is saying she won't support a "gimmick" from the GOP on the debt limit.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
Pelosi's statement was deliberately vague, but if attaching the "no budget, no pay" thing to the debt limit isn't a gimmick, I don't know what is. So, by heading down that path, Republicans would cost themselves most if not all Democratic votes. That would force Republicans to find the votes for an extension from their own caucus—but given the narrow and fractious nature of the GOP majority, it's hard to see how that's possible. Republicans need Democratic votes.
If they elect to move forward anyway, there's another problem with the "No budget, no pay" idea: It's not Constitutional. The 27th Amendment clearly bars Congress from changing its own pay. And a top Republican is ready to shoot it down:
The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said constitutional problems may doom a debt ceiling plan announced earlier Friday by House leaders, but the Republican lawmaker said he has a replacement in mind.Issa says he wants the legislation to tie the debt ceiling itself to passage of a budget. But that goes beyond mere "gimmick" and brings us right back to a hostage crisis situation—and that's what created this problem in the first place.
“That’s unconstitutional,” Rep. Darrell Issa said of the plan to withhold members’ pay if their chamber does not pass a budget resolution. House Republicans have dubbed the proposal “no budget, no pay.”
Bottom line, it seems like Republicans have three options: (1) they can pass a clean extension of the debt limit, as Cantor's initial statement seemed to be saying they would, (2) they can try to pass a debt limit extension that includes the unconstitutional "no budget, no pay" gimmick, or (3) they can go back to hostage crisis mode, right back where we started.
Only one of those three options—the first—is at all viable. And in a sign of the clown show that is today's GOP, it's still not clear what they are going to do, even though hours earlier they sent a message loud and clear that they were waving the white flag of surrender.
1:56 PM PT: Issa, in a bit of ass covering, elaborates to TPM, saying he expects a final measure to have cleared up any constitutional issues. Let's be clear though, he still thinks (correctly) that it's unconstitutional to change the amount of money members of Congress get paid during a term. Pay could be withheld or delayed, but not eliminated. And he still favors explicit language holding the debt limit hostage to budgetary politics. In other words, Issa's preferred outcome is still one with a hostage crisis: he just wants a different ransom letter. And it's a nonstarter.