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Will a Sidecar Help Avert Debt Limit Disaster?

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
The White House signaled Monday that the president is open to a short-term debt limit hike, provided that legislative side-cars aren’t a “concession” to the GOP.

With both Speaker John A. Boehner and President Barack Obama stuck in their corners on reopening the government, the dispute over the debt ceiling has taken center stage.

As it becomes increasingly clear that the two issues will be intertwined, the question turns to how long Obama can maintain a no-negotiation stance and whether Boehner can ultimately convince his restive caucus to vote for anything the president might sign that would avoid a default.

The White House opened the door to signing a short-term debt limit hike Monday — and didn’t immediately dismiss the idea of allowing legislative sidecars provided they aren’t a “concession” to the GOP.

Press Secretary Jay Carney said the White House was insisting that the debt limit be raised “without drama and without delay.”

But, he said: “How they do that, I’m not going to specify or rule in anything or rule out anything. ... As long as they fulfill it without drama or delay, without brinkmanship, without threatening default is up to them. And — and the duration that they attach to it, again, is up to them.”

An acceptable sidecar to the White House is something on the order of the largely toothless “No Budget, No Pay” legislation that accompanied the debt ceiling hike earlier this year and came with a guarantee from Senate Democrats that they would pass a budget resolution for the first time since 2009. But, Carney said, Republicans would not be able to extract policy “concessions” such as rolling back Obamacare.

Boehner, at this point, continues to demand “cuts and reforms” in return for a debt limit hike, and he’s charged that the president risks default by refusing to talk.

Both sides have pointed to history to make their arguments. The White House has said no party has ever threatened default the way the GOP did in 2011. But Republicans did threaten to withhold support for the debt ceiling during the 1995-96 shutdown drama, and debt limit hikes have frequently been opportunities to pass budget process changes, including in 2010 when Obama signed pay-as-you-go budget rules long-sought by Blue Dog Democrats in return for their votes on a debt-limit increase.

The reality is that lawmakers in both parties have also long wanted to attach the debt ceiling to other bills because it is never a popular vote with the public.

Carney acknowledged the difficulty of the vote Monday, when he suggested that Congress might want to pass a longer-term hike to avoid having to vote on a debt limit increase again and again.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to keep up their drumbeat that Obama must ultimately agree to something, lest he own a piece of the default.

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