The debt-ceiling “debate,” like the fiscal cliff, will really be more of a negotiation. On this coming negotiation, Ezra Klein makes a number of interesting points, two of which I want to highlight (link).
First, Klein thinks the GOP will again not name specific spending cuts.
Arguably, the unwillingness of the GOP to be author of the spending cuts for which they so vociferously advocate in the abstract was the most striking aspect of the fiscal cliff negotiation. This unwillingness was either (a) part of a strategy to keep the spending-cut debate in their pocket until the country hits the debt ceiling again, when they will have more leverage. Or (b) a strategic calculation that it is bad politics to become the author of highly unfavorable spending cuts. For the GOP’s sake, I hope they are analytically savvy enough to know, (b) is fundamentally true. With either, we can expect a major showdown over the debt ceiling. With (a), there is the possibility the GOP signs their name to spending cuts, which would be a major political mistake, lest the entire party enjoy the political future Paul Ryan is now facing. Soon we will find out for sure. Anyway, Klein puts it this way:
[T]here’s no evidence yet that the Republicans will even be able to name their price on the debt ceiling. House Speaker John Boehner has his dollar-for-dollar principle, which implies more than a trillion dollars in cuts to raise the debt ceiling through 2014. But Republicans haven’t named anywhere near a trillion dollars of further cuts in any of the fiscal cliff negotiations. They’ve been afraid to take direct aim at Social Security and Medicare, and while they can call for deep cuts to Medicaid, everyone knows that’s a nonstarter for the White House in the age of Obamacare. Meanwhile, domestic discretionary spending has already been cut to the bone, and Republicans want to increase defense spending. So what’s their demand going to be, exactly? Will they force America into default on behalf of spending cuts they can’t name?
Second, Klein thinks Obama will not cave.
The question being bandied about is what the president means when he says he won’t repeat 2011’s debt-ceiling negotiation. Will he stand his ground on that? Most interesting to me is whether the president and his braintrust are discussing extra-constitutional measures to sidestep the Congress (if need be). I would be. And I wouldn’t mind if this talk leaked to a friendly reporter. Klein doesn’t address the extra-constitutional question, but offers a take on Obama’s line in the sand:
I don’t think the White House has a shred of credibility when they say they won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling. They may not call what they’re about to do negotiating over the debt ceiling, but that’ll be what they’re doing. That said, I’m quite convinced that they don’t intend to be held hostage over the debt ceiling. As a former constitutional law professor, the president sees himself as a steward of the executive branch and is deeply hostile to setting the precedent that congressional minorities can hold presidents hostage through the debt ceiling. At some point in the coming talks, Boehner or McConnell or both are going to realize that the White House really, seriously will not accept a bargain in which what they “got” was an increase in the debt limit, and so they’re going to have to decide at that point whether to crash the global economy.