Obama Emerges with a Win on the Debt Ceiling

I wasn’t sure to expect when President Obama announced that he would oppose anything other than a clean debt-ceiling increase. The incentives that led Republicans to the brink in 2011 haven’t gone away, and Tea Party lawmakers still hold considerable influence with the House Republican conference. What’s more, as Jonathan Bernstein points out, there isn’t much of a positive GOP agenda; Republicans have no ideas that could appeal to swing voters, and form the basis of a genuine opposition. All they have, instead, is an inchoate rage at the fact of Obama’s presidency.

As it turns out, Obama made the right decision. With no possible out, Republicans have caved on the debt ceiling, rather than stand strong and risk the ire of the public and the political class. According to the New York Times, House Republicans said they would agree to “lift the federal government’s statutory borrowing limit for three months, with a requirement that both chambers of Congress pass a budget in that time to clear the way for negotiations on long-term deficit reduction.”

At the moment, congressional Democrats are silent on this proposal—they might demand a longer extension, to avoid a repeat of this game. Regardless, we seem to have passed a corner. Between the end of the Hastert rule for important legislation and the end of legislative hostage taking with the debt ceiling, we seem to be at a place where rational negotiation is possible.

This isn’t to say that things will suddenly become more progressive. As Time’s Michael Grunwald and I discussed on this week’s podcast, congressional elections have consequences too, and there’s no compromise with Republicans that doesn’t also involve pain for Democrats. Even still, if you’re interested in solving problems, governing with some pain is far preferable to gridlock.