Will another debt-ceiling fight send America over the fiscal cliff?
A "doomsday plan," notes Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, is traditionally a path toward surviving a disaster, like nuclear war. But the new doomsday plan being floated by Republicans — to quietly give in on marginal tax rate increases and move on to a fight where they have leverage, raising the debt ceiling — is kind of the opposite: "A plan meant to create a doomsday scenario," a U.S. debt default and ensuing "global financial crisis," if the GOP doesn't get deep enough spending cuts. President Obama seems pretty adamant that he's not willing to reprise the debt ceiling debacle of 2011. And this isn't just about a fight in 2013, but "a matter of good governance." The White House strongly believes "it would be irresponsible of them — a breach of trust with their successors — to permit this kind of economic brinksmanship to become the norm."
That's Obama's public stance: "I will not play that game," he said Wednesday. "We've got to break that habit before it starts." And his opening bid in the fiscal-cliff negotiations included a measure to ease raising the debt ceiling out of Congress' hands — the Treasury Department even has a viable plan. But under the table, Democrats are working to get a debt-limit increase as part of a fiscal cliff deal, says Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo. And it seems "Democrats have no consensus plan to execute if the debt ceiling isn't increased before the end of the year."
Obama has a "relatively strong legal basis" for ignoring the useless debt ceiling altogether, "either by citing the Fourteenth Amendment or by minting a platinum coin," says Jonathan Chait at New York. But it probably won't come to that. In all fairness, adds Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect, "Obama bears some blame for the fact that the debt ceiling is now a weapon in budget negotiations," since he allowed it to be in early 2011, but now he has to shut this down. "There was never any justification for negotiating over the debt limit — it's an administrative function and should be treated as such."
"No, no, no — a thousand times, no," says Erika Johnsen at Hot Air. "A debt limit is good for a lot of things; most notably, forcing you to acknowledge when you've spent too much money." Republicans won't, and shouldn't, agree to any weakening of congressional authority. "The debt ceiling is meant to be a mechanism to force tough political battles and 'hostage-taking,' for goodness' sake." The Democrats do seem "oddly confident" about neutering the debt ceiling, agrees Martin Longman at Booman Tribune. "The Republicans will never give up their new toy. If they can't blackmail the administration, the Tea Party will have no more reason to exist."
If Obama can't permanently end the use of the debt ceiling as a "tool for extortion," he can easily get a limit increase, says Noam Scheiber at The New Republic. This isn't 2011 — this time it's Obama and the Democrats who won a sweeping victory, thanks in part to the damage Republicans did to their image in the debt limit standoff. Once the fiscal cliff is resolved, Obama should simply tell House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) he has "no intention of bargaining over raising the limit — that whether Boehner wants to flirt with another financial crisis or calmly ease the increase through the House is entirely his choice. I guarantee he will not choose option A."
"Don't bet on it," says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. If Democrats "refuse to negotiate in good faith this month, House Republicans won't hesitate to return the favor, especially when it comes to getting some traction on entitlement spending." But expect to see a little less brinksmanship, and a little more compromising, next week. "This week is when both sides rev up their engines to demonstrate their willingness to go full speed in the game of chicken." Hopefully, next week we'll see a comprehensive deal.