I don’t think anyone has put it any better than this …
Eric Posner in Slate, explains the difference between the fiscal cliff madness and the coming fight over raising the debt ceiling:
The debt standoff is more ominous than the fiscal cliff because it doesn’t reflect a legitimate dispute over public policy. While reasonable people can disagree about the right level of taxation and spending, no one believes that the United States should default on its debt, not even the most ardent Tea Partiers. So holding the debt ceiling hostage is pure brinkmanship—akin to threatening to set off a nuclear bomb in Manhattan if the president fails to agree to spending cuts.
It doesn’t get any clearer than that. And the media should be careful in covering this, that we don’t blur the distinction. The media, IMHO, keeps blurring the distinction, and treating the debt ceiling as just another bargaining chip in the overall debate (itself a fetish of the Beltway media and Republican politicians, plus a few Democrats like former PA Gov. Ed Rendell and other centrists) over federal spending. It is not. The debt limit is about paying the nation’s bills. Period. It is not a bargaining chip. And letting it become one in 2011 was probably the single biggest mistake the Obama team made. Recall that the outcome of that debacle was both a credit downgrade for the U.S., the failed spending/cutting commission, and the much-hyped “fiscal cliff.”
Meanwhile, my sources close to the White House’s thinking on this, continue to insist that there will be NO negotiations on the debt ceiling this time around. The president has said he won’t even take Republicans’ calls on the matter. (Sam Stein has the same reporting, along with a really good tick-tock on how the negotiations went down.)
Separate sources tell me the White House could wind up pushing all negotiations into the fight over the continuing budget resolution, which would mean they could still negotiate with Republicans on budget issues at that point, but not in the debt ceiling piece. In that case, the White House could hold out for the principle of a clean debt ceiling increase, and still find a way to deal with Republicans on their budget cutting obsession.
But the most important point here is that the debt ceiling is not something that in any sane reality should necessitate offsetting spending cuts. It is the payment of bills for money Congress has already appropriated, and there’s a strong argument that the president has the authority to raise it on his own, since he would simply be acceding to Congress’ previous spending decisions.
Democrats would love for Obama to use the 14th Amendment option, but I’m convinced they are convinced that’s not really an option. Let’s see if they can hold out on the non-negotiable debt limit increase, and go from there.
Wildcard: the White House is also teeing up gun control, and immigration, probably sooner rather than later. Let’s see how they try to cram all of this in.