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Hostage takers disagree over ransom note

Reps. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)
Reps. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)Getty Images

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said on Monday that he's prepared to block a debt-ceiling increase, consequences be damned, unless Democrats give him "a full delay or defund of Obamacare." Even if Democrats offered him changes to Social Security in exchange for nothing, the New Jersey Republican said, it wouldn't be enough to satisfy him.

Just 24 hours later, Garrett appeared on CNN and said he's prepared to block a debt-ceiling increase unless we "begin to address our entitlement problems."

One lawmaker, one issue, two completely different positions.

Similarly, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) -- remember him? -- has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, making his priorities clear.

The president is giving Congress the silent treatment. He's refusing to talk, even though the federal government is about to hit the debt ceiling. That's a shame—because this doesn't have to be another crisis. It could be a breakthrough. We have an opportunity here to pay down the national debt and jump-start the economy, if we start talking, and talking specifics, now. To break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country's entitlement programs and tax code.

What does Ryan have to say about the Affordable Care Act? Nothing. In fact, the 1,000-word op-ed doesn't mention the health care law at all.

Much to the chagrin of right-wing activists, Ryan apparently wants to change the ransom note. He's comfortable with threatening deliberate harm to the nation unless Democrats meet Republican demands, but the Budget Committee chair wants to replace Tea Partiers' priority (taking health care benefits away from working families) with his priority (tax reform and entitlement cuts).

Now, I have a hunch I know why Ryan ignores "Obamacare" in his preferred ransom note, and it's not because he forgot about it. Republicans are reluctant to admit it, but the Affordable Care Act vastly improves the nation's finances in the coming years, and repealing it would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt. Ryan can't afford to destroy the health care law -- he uses it in his own plan to balance the budget over the next decade.

More important, though, in the bigger picture, Republicans aren't just flailing, they're lost.

They shut the government down last week, and they're prepared to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States next week. They freely admit they're prepared to impose self-inflicted wounds on Americans, on purpose, unless their demands are met.

And what are those demands? Even now, after months of planning and fiascos of their own making, the party's own leaders and members haven't the foggiest idea.

Here's a radical suggestion: maybe Republicans can reopen the government, agree to skip the sovereign debt crisis, get their act together, and get back to us?