A deal on the debt ceiling isn’t going to happen now. One thing and one thing only has to change for the GOP leadership either to press their members into raising the debt ceiling – or to accede to Democratic demands in order to pick up enough Democratic votes in the House to raise the debt ceiling without the Tea Party’s support. And that one thing is beyond the ability of either Democrats or Republicans to change.
It’s the calendar. We’ve seen time and again with this Congress that Speaker Boehner is willing to fold. He just can’t fold before he has to. If I’m right about that, then everything that happens between now and whenever-he-has-to is about political positioning. Speaker Boehner understands that Democrats won’t agree to a deal that excludes revenue hikes while cutting benefits for America’s neediest. (And note to Republicans: When you ding Democrats for refusing to back down on entitlements, you enshrine them in the media and electorate as the ones defending entitlements.)
So if the House can’t pass a debt-ceiling hike because Democrats are entrenched on entitlements and Republicans are entrenched on taxes, how does anyone undo this Gordian Knot? By cutting it, of course. I think the cleanest and possibly most desirable way to do that is just to do what Congress always used to do – raise the debt ceiling without grand, transformative budgets attached to it. It also has the advantage of legislative simplicity – and could bail out Congress quickly if they let this go too far.
The only other possibility I see is that the markets show enough sign of instability due to default fears that Boehner is able to get the Tea Party on board. Or it gives him enough cover to buck them and make an alliance with House Democrats.
And the one point I don’t hear anyone making about this grand bargain that both sides say they want – whenever the other side isn’t saying it – is that there’s nothing magical about a grand bargain to ensure that future Congresses and administrations actually adhere to it. Whatever this Congress and president agree on in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, nothing obliges future Congresses and presidents to abide by those agreements.
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