How is the debt ceiling fight like Monopoly?

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
Yahoo News
Shirley Theal, center, and Pat Wilson, both of Niagara Falls, Ontario, walk on a life-sized Monopoly board on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J. on Tuesday Sept. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

No, it’s not Monopoly's imaginary money and rigged economy, or the idea that the next dice throw could bring disaster.

But one Republican House member, briefing a dozen reporters Thursday on condition that he not be named, recalled a long-ago round of the iconic board game as he argued that President Barack Obama needs to negotiate with the GOP.

“I used to play Monopoly for money in college — I was pretty good at it. I knew I was Republican right then,” he said.

During one game, after bets were made and all of the properties purchased, players started trading and selling.

“I had a guy exactly where I knew he had to give me more than he should just to get one crappy little set of three,” the lawmaker said. “Finally he said ‘If I do that, I’m gonna lose.’ And I said ‘You’re gonna lose anyway,’ and then he said ‘Well then you are, too.’ And he didn’t trade with me at all.”

“And I did lose. And I thought ‘you know, you probably need to leave the guy some hope of winning some way out,’” the lawmaker said.

In the standoff over the debt limit — raising the government’s ability to borrow in order to pay for existing programs — the president is insisting on getting his way, the lawmaker said. Republicans don’t want to default, but they’ll face defeat at the hands of angry voters in their home districts if they go along with Obama’s plan without exacting some steps to rein in spending. So the GOP is looking for that "some hope."

None of this is likely to weaken Obama’s resolve not to negotiate over the debt ceiling — not this time, not since the August 2011 deal that gave the country painful across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration and a first-ever downgrade of the country's credit rating.

Obama has argued that he and House Republicans share a duty not to tank the economy, and that raising the debt limit isn’t something that he is asking for as a favor.

He also has refused to negotiate over a short-term stop-gap spending bill to reopen the government for a matter of weeks as both sides negotiate a longer-term compromise.

That has infuriated Republicans, especially the tea party-affiliated GOP members who precipitated the shutdown by refusing to approve a spending measure unless it in some way rolled back the president’s signature domestic policy achievement, the law popularly known as “Obamacare.”

The anonymous lawmaker described the resulting battle as almost accidental.

“This isn’t exactly the fight I think the Republicans wanted to have, some of the leadership wanted to have, but it’s the fight that’s here,” he said.

“He doesn’t want to negotiate until he has what he wants,” the lawmaker said of Obama, warning that “a clean debt-limit increase right now would fail.”

That’s not to say that the GOP has a clear solution. “Does this look like a planned-out operation?” he quipped.

Still, the lawmaker appeared to confirm reports that Republican House Speaker John Boehner is hunting for some kind of “grand bargain” comprising legislation to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling and get some cuts to entitlements.

The anonymous Representative referred multiple times to “chained-CPI,” an adjustment to Social Security cost-of-living increases. Obama has proposed that change over the opposition of liberals who denounce it as targeting benefits for the elderly.

White House officials scoffed at this, saying that the president has always been open to a much broader deal. And there’s no sign that the political climate favors any kind of far-reaching deal.

But the lawmaker suggested that tying such issues in with the debt ceiling would make it easier for a GOP-Democratic coalition to embrace reining in entitlement costs, a broadly unpopular approach.

“It is easier” and it’ll help the next president, he said. The deficit “is gonna explode,” and entitlement reform is necessary to get the nation’s long-term fiscal affairs in order.

“The next president is going to walk into a terrible situation,” he said. “This is a chance to deal with this.”

That’s why, he said, “Hillary Clinton should be rooting for us.”