NOW with Alex Wagner | January 23, 2013
>>> today, the house is expected to pass a bill that would suspend the debt ceiling for three months with only republican support. in an about-face, speaker boehner is taking up the democratic position and urging his party not to fight over the debt ceiling. could it be that the spirit of compromise is visiting boehner 's rightward flank? no. here's the fine print. rather than raise the debt ceiling, the bill temporarily suspends it. meaning a vote will be held at some future point to determine whether to pay off the debt retroactively. secondly, this is a larger scheme to move the battle over the deficit and spending to a place where the republicans feel they have more leverage. the gop hashed plans for a republican revolution . politico report s speaker john boehner , using paul ryan as his salesman, urged his members to make their stand on the budget and sequesters. jake sherman writes, in roughly 48 hours , the republicans went from defense to offense and retreated to the debt ceiling must be matched by spending cuts. it was the swiftest and most drastic position switch in boehner 's speakership. it was not lost on kevin mccarthy who said, "what they'll say after that vote, this is the day of the comeback." maybe if comeback also conotes fractious and uncertain strategy. with no democratic support, the way could go the way of boehner 's plan b if just seven republicans break rank. and they still have to contend with the rightward flank.
>> you wouldn't believe the number of conservative commentators, hey, you know what, we're going to have to start backing off obama , he's not really a bad guy , not a socialist marxist, he's just a chicago thug. we're becoming isolated on an island here, it's very small. it's a drift out in the middle of nowhere .
>> joining us now to discuss this is the sage of capitol hill , nbc's luke russert . luke , it never stops being --
>> how are you?
>> i'm great. i'm great.
>> thanks for quoting jake sherman. he's a good american. way to quote him on the intro.
>> you're welcome. luke , we know that nothing is secure when it comes to the house republican caucus . there is no deal until there's actually a deal. we hear that the vote on the debt ceiling is supposed to take place in this hour some time between 12:30 and 1:00. is it going to come to the floor? does john boehner have the votes?
>> from where i stand right now, from my latest conversation with aides, they say they are moving in the right direction and they are confident they have the votes for this to pass. if it goes to the floor, they'll definitely have the votes. however, i urge caution, because even though this plan seems to have the support of the president, seems to be receptive -- harry reid seems to be receptive, you never quite know because of the 17 chuckle heads, known by more modest members, what they could do. i spoke to a few of them, and they said this is not a logical solution, because we need to have real deep spending cuts in order to extend the debt limit under any possible solution. the short answer of your question is, we expect this one to go through. there's been more optimism than there was during the fiscal cliff saga from gop leadership folks, but with this house gop conference, it's not over until it's over. we'll see here in the next half hour.
>> luke , there's some channelling of bob marley going on in the capitol, which is to say, no woman, no cry. no budget , no pay. tell us a little about that interesting writer to this bill.
>> you know, it's an interesting idea that was attached here, which really comes from no label, that group with david walker , and actually jim cooper , a blue dog member of the democratic coalition of tennessee introduced this original. that's why they feel if they can hit the 217 number they'll get more democrats to support this. the idea is, once this passes the house, the debt limit would be extended to may 19th and possibly worked on afterwards, but if the senate does not come up with a budget by april 17th , any salaries would go into an escrow account until 2014 . it's not really no budget , no pay, it's just no budget , you'll get your money later, because we legally have to give it to you. in the senate, those guys are straight cash. i don't think a lot of them are worrying too much if they lost their government pay.
>> luke russert with the phrase of the day, those guys in the senate are straight cash. i have to introduce our friend joining the panel now, fresh from a stalled amtrak train in new jersey, msnbc contributor and "the huffington post " political editor sam stein.
>> great to be here. i was loving the amtrak train, but this is better.
>> magical place, my friend.
>> what were we talking about?
>> i'll clue you in. basically, the republican strategy to push the fight over sequesters and the continuing resolution , is it a good one for the republicans? it would seem to be a wise or prudent choice, given sort of the leverage they have right now. they've managed to attach this interesting budget piece to it. is this the good move, the right move for them?
>> i think so. i'm not a polling expert, but i can only imagine if you're conditioned for not, you know, tanking the global economies, that doesn't poll pretty well. what this means is we're going to have a government shutdown , at least it seems likely we will have a government shutdown over the continuing resolution that's going to come up at the end of march. i'm not sure it's the greatest ground for them. i think people are very tired of brinksmanship and they want to have civil, reasonable, negotiations. we'll see if this four-month, three-month delay, whatever it is, will get us down that track, but i don't think holding the debt ceiling hostage is smart.
>> i don't think the goal is actually -- i agreed with something scarborough said this morning, this is a shrewd political move. all they've done is shifted this whole debacle a few months. what's to say now we're going to have a couple months of rational, thoughtful budget discussion? i don't think so.
>> that's the question, it is delaying -- it's getting a cavity or a root canal -- filled cavity or root canal . i'm not a dentist, obviously.
>> you know which one's which.
>> i really do.
>> i've had both.
>> in terms of the politico story that jake wrote, behind the scenes , boehner was able to rally -- we think, unless it blows up in his face. is that spirit of unity going to continue to the pri mord yal battle over the deficit and spend something.
>> it's the real x-factor. i would not dare to predict, i think sam is right, there's a real danger --
>> that's a first.
>> i do think it's true that they are in the danger zone right now. i think government shutdown might seem more palatable, but it's not really, because this is sort of asking the person at home to differentiate whether you would think a cavity is good or a root canal is worse, they are all bad.
>> which would you rather have?
>> they are all bad. it's too hard to say right now in terms of if boehner is going to be able to herd his flock, but i think it's in everybody's interest.
>> in one sense, boehner is putting a lot of the burden on mitch mcconnell and harry reid . okay, you do your thing, then we'll consider it. for a while it had been boehner versus obama , and boehner has come to -- no?
>> he was chiming in, no, no, that wisdom has proved him correct. is that what you were saying, luke ?
>> i'm sorry. i was talking to the producer in my ear. you saw live tv mishap. sam stein is never wrong. i'm apologizing to him for that.
>> never been happier to be off amtrak than this. boehner versus obama , boehner versus obama . the speaker is always going to be at a lesser hand against the president for various reasons, and what he's basically said is, okay, let's let the senate do its thing and we'll consider it. they've become the senate in the usual case of they are the cooling saucer for legislation. everything is going to go to them as a final stage. i think that's tactically smart.
>> in terms of long-term implications for the republican party , everybody's been saying after the election, maybe they can get it together, circle the wagons, come up with a new position, new policies.
>> this gives them more time to work on this. i don't have any ideas for them on that, i got to tell you. good luck.
>> luke , how much -- i mean, we played that sound from rush limbaugh , rush limbaugh is the mayor of planet crazy, but at the same time, he does speak for -- you know this, house caucus, there are people, yesterday mo brooks plans to oppose this, he has a serious problem on his hands. to what degree are they going to be placated or feel they need to put party or country before primary?
>> that doesn't apply to these folks. we say to the term "chuckle heads" sort of in a joking manner, but that's what they are referred to now. this apocalyptic group, which will not move forward on anything, and because the margins are smaller now, you see that in the house of representatives . what i find fascinating is the democrats' ability to hold their members and say, look, let's try and splinter the house gop . let's try and make them seem extreme. if you put this up for a vote, there's a lot of members, especially the blue dogs that would go along with it in two seconds, but they are going to hold, make them go to 217. i don't think these folks -- if they don't move on this, how are they going to move on funding the government and replace the sequester, they like the sequester cuts. they don't have problems in regards to cutting to defense and some of the social programs. those folks aren't going to move, and i think that's a real story of this era, how you have this really small minority within a minority that has grasped so much power and has really brought washington to a standstill on so many issues.
>> and has effectively forced moderate republicans to be sort of live and die by democratic sorts, to get the legislation through.
>> that's the story, do those moderate republicans, i call them the cole caucus, tom cole , there's about 65 of them if boehner puts them on the floor, they can literally do whatever they wanted. are they worried about being primaried? do they keep themselves together like they did over the fiscal cliff. that's interesting to see over the 115th congress.
>> we'll see. my friend, it's, like, 17 degrees in new york right now, i know it's chilly in washington. are you wearing boat shoes?
>> no, but i do walk in to nobu like it's whole foods.
>> quoting kanye west , we have to leave it there.
>> i want the intro song next time. pay the royalty, play it for me.
>> thank you, luke , we'll be in touch with you later.
>>> coming up, wayne lapierre portends a nefarious obama administration gun grab. we'll try to better understand lapierre's factually challenging argument and head-scratching logic just ahead.