Whose debt ceiling? Not the administration's!

The debt limit increase would be America's, not the current administration's. Soon, rational Americans will be much more nervous about the debt ceiling.

Charles Dharapak / AP
President Barack Obama sits with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, as he meets with Republican and Democratic leaders regarding the debt ceiling, Monday, July 11, 2011, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. When it comes to the debt ceiling, what matters most to lawmakers? Votes, writes guest blogger Jared Bernstein.

I haven’t weighed in on this for a few days as I thought it made more sense to watch things develop. But nothing much appears to have changed, even as we get closer to the deadline.

Still, my theory of the case remains this: it all comes down to a number game, and I don’t mean dollars, I mean votes.

Boehner and of late, even McConnell, while seemingly immovable on revenues, do not want to be responsible for a default that could take a frail economy back into recession. But their control over their caucus in the House is tenuous. Their intractability is at least in part, posturing to a) get a better deal (more cuts, less revenues), and b) appease the zealots.

The question is, how many House R’s can they drag along at the end of the day to support a deal that will have at least some revenues. Team Obama/Biden, to their credit, have never wavered on this and that matters too, vote-wise. They can’t get their caucus behind them without revs in the deal, because, as the President pointed out yesterday, no revs would mean putting everything on the spending side of the ledger, and that would do far more harm than good, both to the economy and to the people in it.

I believe the administration can get the D’s behind a package that raises the ceiling and reduces the deficit somewhere between $1 and $2 trillion, includes something in the $500 billion range on revenues, takes on some sacred cows (entitlements), hopefully less on the benefits side than on the costs savings side.

It remains an open question whether Boehner can deliver on some version of the above, but man, he and his team are making it hard to stay calm.

Apparently, yesterday they introduced a new and particularly outlandish theme. From this AM’s WaPo:

“Boehner suggested that the only concession Obama should expect from Republicans is a vote to allow the Treasury to continue borrowing.

‘“Most Americans would say that a ‘balanced’ approach is a simple one: The administration gets its debt-limit increase, and the American people get their spending cuts and their reforms.”’

That is SO not the definition of negotiation.

I hate to go to the “all caps” place, but they leave me no choice.


Mr. Boehner, you’ve already accepted a budget—the budget that’s currently in place running the gov’t—that depends on raising the debt ceiling. You then voted for another budget—the Ryan budget—that also depends on raising the debt ceiling by trillions. And by dint of your position, you, among others, are responsible for the economic damage that failing to raise the ceiling will cause.

I’ve already explained my position on Cantor’s canter from the table, but to take this position is to metaphorically walk away from the table.

One can only hope this is more posturing for leverage, but as the graph here shows, it’s getting close to freak-out time.

(Note: got to give it up to a WaPo copyeditor who, riffing off of Obama’s exhorting the R’s to come to the table and “eat your peas,” said that it’s time to “give peas a chance.”

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