Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Debt Limit Vote: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

But even partisan Democrats agree that their party faces a considerable risk if they look as if they are insufficiently committed to cutting spending. Indeed, merely by supporting an increase in the debt limit, Democrats play into an image that they are trying to change — that they are fiscally irresponsible.

This is why, some observers speculate, that if a “clean” vote on increasing the debt limit occurs soon (as some predict), large numbers of Democrats will vote against it. That would give ammunition to House Republicans, of course.

Observers also agree that Democrats could well have more to lose if Congress can’t pass an increase in the debt limit before U.S. government borrowing hits the existing ceiling.

Even if Republican opposition to increasing the debt limit provokes an economic or financial crisis, Obama could well take the brunt of the political damage from voters simply because he is sitting in the Oval Office and looked powerless.

While Democrats surely would attempt to blame the GOP for a spike in interest rates due to a loss of confidence in the U.S. government’s reliability, it is far from clear that the president would avoid serious damage if the U.S. economy were to suffer from any chaos produced by the government reneging on its obligations.

Presidents, after all, sometimes take the blame for events out of their control, and even Democratic strategists worry that they cannot be sure that a deadlock on increasing the debt ceiling due to Republican intransigence wouldn’t hurt Democrats more than Republicans.

Of course, if Democrats are in an awkward situation on raising the debt limit, so is Boehner, who is both trying to lead his party and follow it at the same time.

Still, the only group of players that doesn’t appreciate the potential negative fallout from a deadlock is House Republicans, many of whom seem to think that failing to raise the debt limit wouldn’t be all that big of a deal. That view may well be delusional, but it gives them a great deal of power in any negotiations, since they don’t feel the pressure to act that others do.

Democrats, of course, will say that this is akin to the inmates running the asylum, while Republicans will respond that Democrats created the problem of bigger government and more spending.

If you think I’m certain of the outcome, you are wrong. But smart insiders believe that there is plenty of political risk to go around, and I expect we’ll see many weeks of political shadowboxing by Congressional Republicans, Congressional Democrats and the White House before the second half of July approaches. Only then will a deal be possible.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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