Did President Obama Disarm the Debt Ceiling?


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After a dozen 11th-hour fiscal boxing matches between Democrats and Republicans in recent memory, it looks as if Washington lawmakers have finally tired of brinkmanship. On Tuesday evening, more than two weeks before Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says the United States would reach is statutory spending limit, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to bring a clean debt ceiling proposal to vote.

Sources told the Washington Post on Tuesday that GOP leadership no longer believes they will be able to win concessions from President Barack Obama and the Democratically controlled Senate over the debt ceiling. Ostensibly looking to avoid the kind of last-minute wheeling and dealing that shut down parts of the government and invoked massive public ire in October, Boehner and a number of other House Republicans appear willing to vote yes on a clean debt ceiling proposal — enough, maybe, to pass the measure with the “north of 180″ House Democrats that House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) says are on board with the plan.

“You all know that our members are not crazy about voting to increase the debt ceiling,” Boehner told reporters on Tuesday. “And so the fact is we’ll let the Democrats put the votes up. We’ll put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed.”

Boehner continued: “Our members are also very upset with the president. He won’t negotiate. He won’t deal with our long-term spending problems without us raising taxes. He won’t even sit down and discuss these issues. He’s the one driving up the debt and the question they’re asking is, why should I deal with his debt limit?”

Obama’s position on the debt ceiling may have effectively spoiled it as a political weapon, at least for the time being. It may even be fair to call the GOP’s consent to pass a clean bill (even if it is with a minority) a victory for the president, who took flak when he stood his ground during the October fiscal fiasco. At the time, an ultra-conservative faction of the GOP was trying to use the debt ceiling to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m happy to have negotiations,” the president told reporters at the time, “but we can’t do it with a gun held to the head of the American people.”

Some Democrats certainly believe the development is a victory for their side of the aisle. Inside a meeting of Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reportedly told members, “don’t gloat, take it in stride and hang together.”

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