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Until Republicans captured their House majority in January 2011, no political party ever had both the intent and the votes to block an increase in the U.S. debt ceiling. While figures in both parties have cast symbolic votes against raising Uncle Sam's borrowing authority (Senator Barack Obama among them), until 2011 neither Democrats nor Republicans ever credibly threatened to trigger a sovereign default by the United States and with it, a global economic meltdown.

But now, the previously unthinkable--what Speaker John Boehner himself once described as "financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy"--is a routine exercise in extortion for the kamikaze conservatives in charge of the House of Representatives. And now, the Washington Post is reporting, the prices some Republicans are demanding for Mitch McConnell's "hostage that's worth ransoming" have nothing to do with the national debt at all.

Last week, we learned that Republican leaders may demand revenue-neutral tax reform--that is, rate cuts and loophole closures that would not lower the national debt by one dime--in exchange for a yes vote on the debt limit hike needed last this year. Now, the Post's Lori Montgomery explains, their blackmail may include new abortion restrictions and a green light for the Keystone pipeline:

With the budget deficit falling far faster than anyone expected, House leaders have backed off their insistence that any debt-limit increase be paired with budget cuts of equal value. Now, it seems, the sky's the limit.

At the meeting, 39 lawmakers lined up at microphones to offer suggestions. They ranged from tax and entitlement reform to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to passage of a bill that would require congressional approval for any federal regulation that would impose more than $100 million in new costs on business.

At least one person wanted to take on late-term abortion in the wake of the conviction of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell. Others suggested repeal or delay of Obama's health-care initiative. But for the most part, lawmakers tried to be "realistic," aides said, suggesting measures that could reasonably be expected to both improve the economy and pass the Democratic Senate.

You read that right. Just days after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office slashed its 2013 deficit forecast by $200 billion and projected the deficit as a percentage of GDP would fall to 2.1 percent by 2015 (below the Simpson-Bowles target of 2.5 percent), Republicans are adding new items to their ransom note.

And as you'll see below, that's not all.

In preparation for this fall's brinksmanship, House Republicans passed the so-called "Full Faith and Credit Act" prioritizing Uncle Sam's payments to creditors in case the GOP actually triggers a first-ever default. (Democrats rightly branded the gambit the "Pay China First" bill, as it would put U.S. bondholders ahead of the military, senior citizens and just about everyone and everything else.)  While House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) claimed "This legislation is the first step in protecting our credit rating," Speaker Boehner declared:

"Our goal here is to get ourselves on a sustainable path from a fiscal standpoint. I think doing a debt prioritization bill makes it clear to our bondholders that we're going to meet our obligations."
Boehner, of course, has it exactly backwards. The GOP's debt ceiling hostage-taking and its Pay China First scam create the very economic "uncertainty" Boehner and his Republican allies pretend to decry. After all, during the Republicans' first manufactured debt ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011, consumer confidence plummeted and job creation fell off a cliff. As Standard & Poor's described its Tea Party Downgrade of 2011:
A Standard & Poor's director said for the first time Thursday that one reason the United States lost its triple-A credit rating was that several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the serious consequences of a credit default -- a position put forth by some Republicans. Without specifically mentioning Republicans, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that "people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default," Mukherji said. "That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable," he added. "This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns."
That's right. That kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns. But for Congressional Republicans willing to destroy the American economy if their escalating demands are not met, it's just another day at the office.
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