Get ready for some Fiscal Armageddon

House Republicans have all the zeal in the world. What they’ve lacked, until now, is some sexy branding. Sequestration does not roll off the tongue all that well. The fiscal cliff was both metaphorically opaque and hugely over-hyped. The GOP has fixed this branding problem, and is now preparing to bring Fiscal Armageddon (mushroom clouds! Excel spreadsheets!) to Washington this fall. And as much as the Paul Krugmans of the world might scratch their heads at the impending return of governance by hostage-taking, House Republicans have virtually nothing to lose by trying to burn down Capitol Hill, again.

This fall’s Fiscal Armageddon episode is largely aimed at maiming the federal budget so badly that Obamacare won’t see the light of day. If the Congress doesn’t hit an October 1 deadline for continuing to fund the government, the wheels fall off the bus, and the Republican House is determined to use this leverage point to make a last-ditch stand against Obama’s federal health care law. Last week, Krugman attributed the latest round of fiscal brinksmanship to a crippling fear: that health care reform will work “well enough to help far more people than it hurts. And if that’s how it turns out, it will be irreversible. So here comes a last-ditch effort to stop it, at all costs.”

Today, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait previews the GOP’s thinking in the runup to Armageddon. He notes the worries aired by one GOP Rep, Tom Cole, to Politico; Cole believes that  “The only way Republicans will lose the House is to shut down the government or default on the debt,” which is inconvenient, since, this being Armageddon and all, threatening to shut down the government and default on the federal debt are at the top of the House’s list of negotiating threats. However, Chait argues, Cole and the House GOP brain trust have nothing to worry about.

“How crazy can the Republican House be before risking their majority?” Chait asks. The answer is, wicked crazy. Chait believes that John Boehner’s crew can occupy the space between Michele Bachmann crazy and Charles Manson crazy and still hold the House through the 2014 midterm elections. This is because the GOP’s last big wave, in the 2010 midterms, coincided with redistricting efforts across the country, and redistricting has left most members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, virtually untouchable. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the 2014 midterms will likely be the least competitive in recent history, with the Cook Political Report rating just 90 of the House’s 435 districts as competitive. Without competition, Chait argues, the House has become “voter-proof.” And voter-proof districts bring Armageddon.

                                                                                                                                                                     –PAUL MCMORROW

BEACON HILL

Massachusetts tax hikes on cigarettes and gasoline are likely to drive many shoppers over the border to New Hampshire, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Cigarette taxes are jumping to $3.51 a pack in Massachusetts, compared to $1.78 in New Hampshire, while gasoline taxes are rising to 24 cents a gallon in the Bay State, compared to 18 cents in the Granite State.

A citizen-first amendment to a housing bond bill filed by Republican Sen. Robert Hedlund of Weymouth draws fire from advocates for immigrants, the Patriot Ledger reports.

A contractor who has collected more than $1 million from the state since 2010 for his work on the Legislature’s information technology systems had liens filed against him by the Internal Revenue Service for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes.

State Sen. Dan Wolf questions the wisdom of a sales-tax holiday when the state is desperate for revenue for transportation and other priorities.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A group calling itself the New Lynn Coalition releases a study indicating the median income in the city is two-thirds of the statewide average and dropping, suggesting too many residents lack the skills for higher-paying jobs, the Item reports.

Fall River loses out in its bid to land an Amazon warehouse, the Herald News reports.

Walmart tries to woo Holyoke residents with free pizza.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Federal sequester cuts are forcing furloughs, layoffs, and delays for public defenders, WBUR reports.

Richmond, California, becomes the first city in the nation to use eminent domain proceedings to fight foreclosures, the New York Times reports.

A massive fire erupts at a propane tank gas plant near Orlando, ABC News reports.

ELECTIONS

East Boston state Rep. Carlo Basile switches horses in the mayor’s race, dropping his prior endorsement of Dan Conley in favor of John Connolly. The cause, he says, was Conley’s support for a citywide vote on an East Boston casino. Connolly favors a vote only among East Boston residents.

Conley, who had sworn off donations from his employees after jumping into the race, will return staff donations the Herald found recently, but won’t give back funds from staffers’ spouses.

Hillary Clinton supporters begin assembling a network of grassroots volunteers and deep-pocketed donors.

Anthony Weiner slips from to fourth place in the latest New York mayoral poll. Maybe it’s because he can’t answer the question “Do you still sext?” with a yes or a no.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The new owner of Southfield, the development proposed for the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station, says the project’s agreement with surrounding towns needs to be changed or the project is going to fail, the Patriot Ledger reports.

Ben Bernanke will be forced to testify about the government bailout of AIG.

HEALTH CARE

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center settled a case involving allegations of improper Medicare billing by paying $5.3 million to the government.

RELIGION

The headline pretty much says it all: “Pope Francis says he accepts gay priests.”

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey reports on CommonWealth’s website that the state and regional transit authorities have put all their routes on Google Maps, making it possible to plan a trip anywhere in Massachusetts using public transit.

Worcester businesses near city hall complain about a loss of customers after a bus hub is moved, so the regional transit authority launches a free shuttle service from the hub to the City Hall area, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

National Grid tells Salem officials that it is possible to run a high voltage electrical cables across the harbor floor but it would cost $110 million, the Salem News reports.

Bakersfield, California, hires homeless people to clean up litter along highways, Governing reports.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed column decries high renewable energy costs.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Authorities meet with residents to try to allay safety concerns in South Boston following the murder of Amy Lord, and Police Commissioner Ed Davis announces that a detective to failed to pursue an earlier case involving Edwin Alemany, a “person of interest” in the Lord slaying, has been demoted.

Will Whitey Bulger accomplice Patrick Nee ever face any charges? Kevin Cullen says the first day of Bulger’s defense didn’t amount to much of a defense.

MEDIA

Dan Kennedy’s blog offers another installment on the news scene in Haverhill, which doesn’t have its own daily newspaper.

The Herald continues rolling out its online talk radio lineup, today introducing a political show co-anchored by State House reporter Hillary Chabot and Jaclyn Cashman.