Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans have moved from bullying to bluffing. Will they get to the next step of actually negotiating? (More)

Squirrels are renowned for our negotiating skills, or would be if humans ever credited squirrels for the ideas you borrow from us. Oh sure, you’ll admit we inspire you to invent dishonest robots, as if squirrels and not Ricky Gervais starred in The Invention of Lying.

But you claim credit for social networking, even though squirrels have complex social networks. We invented Chitter. You stole it and called it Twitter. Why do you think so many of us hang out there?

That said, I’m willing to give humans credit for the antics of Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans. For the past two years, their idea of ‘negotiation’ has been bullying, or what Paul Krugman calls “protection racket politics.” While squirrels are sometimes also accused of bullying …

… I’m a bit suspicious about those squirrels. I think that was a false flag operation, trying to besmirch squirrels with the behaviors of humans.

In fact, House Republicans bullied the nation so brazenly last August that: (1) they were forced to accept a debt ceiling deal they had no intention of keeping; and, (2) last month President Obama won with an Electoral College landslide and Democrats gained seats in both the Senate and the House.

Or, as Speaker John Boehner called it yesterday, “a status quo election.”

I recognized that tactic, because squirrels invented bluffing:

Of course, it looks a bit different when Speaker Boehner wags his tail. But it’s the same idea. Pretend to be bigger than you are, in the hope you won’t get bitten by the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Or, as Republicans would have you believe, an Thelma and Louise plunge into The Abyss. Seriously, they brought up Thelma and Louise and called this self-imposed deadline an abyss. And you think squirrels fluffing our tails looks silly?

So what’s really going on here? To quote The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein, Speaker Boehner and Republicans want a mulligan. For those who don’t know, that’s a term from golf, which squirrels also invented. A year ago, after the debt ceiling debacle, the so-called Super Committee convened to figure out how not to be where we are now. The Super Committee called Erskine Bowles to testify on how to fix the problem, and as Klein explains:

Bowles went on to outline what came to be known as the “Bowles plan.” Calling it a plan, though, is probably a bit generous: It was mostly an exercise in taking the Republican position and the Democratic position and dividing by two.

Take health care cuts: “You are somewhere between $500 billion and $750 billion of additional health care cuts,” Bowles said. “I assumed that we could get to $600 billion.”

Or discretionary cuts: “You all are between $250 billion and $400 billion of additional cuts on discretionary. So I assumed that we could reach a compromise of an additional $300 billion on discretionary spending cuts.”

Or tax increases: “I took the number that the speaker of the House, I had read, had actually agreed to” — he’s referring here to the leaked outlines of the Obama-Boehner talks — “and I was able to generate $800 billion.”

And so on. That’s the plan Boehner offered the White House on Monday. It’s progress. If you ignore the first nine paragraphs in his letter to President Obama — nine paragraphs in which he vents about the White House and rehashes the virtues of the Ryan budget — it’s a far more centrist proposal than anything Boehner has offered in public before now. But it’s essentially identical to what he offered in his talks with Obama, and to what Bowles offered Republicans during the supercommittee talks. Which is understandable. Those deals must be looking pretty good to Boehner about now.

Republicans on the Super Committee rejected that idea, thinking they could get a better deal after President Obama was defeated and Republicans gained control of the Senate. Simply, Republicans gambled on winning the 2012 elections … and lost.

That’s why Speaker Boehner is flicking his tail around in the air. (Yes, I’ll wait while you expunge that image from your subconscious. Feel better? Good.)

But if Republicans think they can bluff this out, they don’t recognize a skilled poker player in action. President Obama is willing to call their bluff, letting all of the Bush tax cuts expire on December 31st, and pushing the new Congress to renew those cuts for 98% of Americans in January. That wouldn’t be pretty – President Obama would also need Congress to renew extended unemployment benefits and some other safety net stimulus measures – but today’s Washington Post poll found Americans will blame Republicans for the disruptions.

So Republicans are also considering a “Doomsday Plan” – vote “present” in the House to extend tax relief for 98% of hardworking families. Predictably, a corollary to that plan is to hold the entire economy hostage over the debt ceiling again – and again and again – or what Paul Krugman calls “Operation Rolling Tantrum.”

We squirrels will give you humans all the credit on that. Just sayin’.

Good day and good nuts.