Congressional Republicans have become quite talented at taking legislative "hostages" at crucial junctures, making extreme demands, unifying behind them, and ultimately rolling Democrats into embracing horrible pieces of legislation. Maybe it's time for Democrats to come up with a plan for this sort of thing. So are they? Sorta.

Here's how it works: House Republicans refuse to pass pieces of legislation that both parties know are necessary — budget bills, debt ceiling increases — until their demands are met. Democrats decide to negotiate with them, because independents supposedly like this. They don't draw early lines in the sand. Democrats offer the store. Republicans just ask for more. Democrats whine about how mean the Republicans are for failing to meet them in the middle, which is actually the center-right. Republicans, at the last second, agree to a deal that is 97% of what they wanted. The deal worsens the economy. Republicans blame the bad economy on the Democratic president.

The forecast for 2011 already has two more "hostage-taking" opportunities on the schedule.

The first is the expiration of the appropriations deal that passed earlier this year. This comes at the end of September. If Republicans insist on ever harsher budget cuts then, will Democrats be ready to hold their ground, even if it means we go into a government shutdown? Nancy Pelosi seemed to suggest they would on a conference call this morning. From TPM:

Just how Democrats plan to proceed may ultimately depend on their willingness to stomach the unpleasant consequences of letting Republicans shoot the hostages. But in a revealing moment, Pelosi hinted Democrats may have reached their breaking point.

"[W]e wouldn't let our country default," Pelosi said. "But I'll say it this way to you. A default is a much more serious consequence than a shutdown of government for a few days."

Then there's the bipartisan "super committee" that the debt ceiling deal set up to find $1+ trillion in additional deficit reduction, with a plan due around Thanksgiving. If Congress doesn't pass the plan, it sets up across-the-board triggered cuts. Republican leaders, naturally, have already sworn not to appoint anyone to their side of the committee who would consider raising any tax. So where are the Democratic lines in the sand? Nowhere! At the moment, Reid and Pelosi seem content with the old habit of whining about how mean Republicans are. From Politico:

Reid is already upset that Republican leaders have declared that they will not appoint anyone to the joint committee who backs any tax hike, a virtual replay of the spending cuts vs. new tax revenues fight that consumed Washington for the past several months.

"So what does that leave the committee to do?" Reid said. "Should Pelosi and I just not appoint and walk away?"

Maybe that's what it means. Or perhaps it means you're supposed to make your own counter-demands, silly billy!

So take this August recess period to relax, political watchers. The interminable and depressing game theory babble will continue shortly!

[Image, top, via tigerzombie/Flickr. Photo of Pelosi and Reid via AP]