What’s important to understand about the debt-ceiling vote — where Democrats and Republicans will either strike a deal to increase the Treasury’s borrowing cap or the country will collapse into default — is that it’s not like Democrats have simply forgotten about it. It’s not that they haven’t realized that they could tie it to the tax cuts, which Republicans want and which will add $900 billion to the debt. It’s that they simply don’t want to. “Let the Republicans have some buy-in on the debt. They’re going to have a majority in the House,” said Harry Reid. “I don’t think it should be when we have a heavily Democratic Senate, heavily Democratic House and a Democratic president.”
But this is a dangerous game of chicken that Democrats are playing, and not one they’ve shown much stomach for thus far. President Obama struck a deal on the tax cuts because he was terrified, in a weak economy, of letting taxes rise slightly. Are we really supposed to believe that Obama and the Democrats will be less terrified of letting the United States default on its debt, with all the attendant consequences to the economy? And what if the Republicans move a package of modest spending cuts to programs Democrats care about mixed with a series of targeted proposals repealing different sections of the health-reform law? That is to say, a package of spending cuts and well-aimed attacks that are popular, but poor policy and offensive to Democrats?