Jon Chait points me to Robert Draper's profile of Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy in the New York Times today. The subject at hand is the hardline group of tea party freshmen elected last November:
McCarthy informally polled them when they first came to town in November for orientation. All but four of them said they would vote against raising the ceiling, under any circumstances....The whip recognized that it would be counterproductive to lecture the freshmen about the economic hazards of not raising the debt ceiling.... And so McCarthy has urged them to consider raising the ceiling under certain conditions and thus to view this moment as a golden opportunity to force significant changes from the White House. “We all ran for a reason,” he tells them. “What’s most of concern to you? What is it that we think will change America?”
As a result, the freshmen have begun to move away from a hard “no” on raising the debt ceiling to a “yes, if.” In the conference room, several freshmen have said they’ll vote to raise the ceiling only if the president agrees to repeal his health care legislation. Or if Obama signs into law a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, after all 50 states have ratified it. Or if he’ll agree to mandatory caps on all nondefense spending. Or if he’ll enact the Ryan budget. The whip writes down all their ideas on a notepad.
None of these things, of course, are even remotely within the realm of reason, so they don't provide Republicans with any kind of improved negotiating position. As Chait says, "the evidence that's leaked out about internal Republican deliberations suggests the Republicans are not shrewdly trying to maximize their leverage. They're just barking mad." It's hard to disagree.