Really? Because I can imagine it reeeeeeeal easily.
But since I made my argument at the last link for why the GOP will end up with another big cave-a-roo on the debt limit, let me play devil’s advocate here. What if circumstances conspire to force them into a surprisingly fierce bit of brinksmanship this winter? Their base is upset with them for agreeing to a lame budget deal and wants to see some action next time before the midterms. ObamaCare could (and probably will) have a chaotic January, making the law more vulnerable than ever to GOP attacks. Everyone from Paul Ryan to Ted Cruz to Ron Johnson to now Mitch McConnell is insisting that the party will need to have something in return for raising the debt ceiling, so they’d be breaking an explicit promise if they fail. Tea partiers in Congress, starting with Cruz, and conservative groups like Heritage Action will seize the opportunity to build grassroots support for a new “don’t blink” effort, especially after Reid stared down the GOP last time. A new poll shows that voters who dislike all players in Washington — a sentiment that’s likely to increase if we hit the debt limit — tend to break for Republicans, limiting the political fallout to the GOP if it happens. Democrats may well do something extra jerky to antagonize righties between now and February, be it Obama dumping on the right in the State of the Union or Reid finally nuking the rest of the filibuster. McConnell and Cornyn will feel intense pressure not to cave this time given that they’re both facing primaries in the spring. And Boehner may decide that he miscalculated by antagonizing the base last week and needs to do something to regain their support before the inevitable amnesty push next year.
If I squint at all of that, I can almost sort of imagine a critical mass of House and Senate Republicans getting cold feet on the next lame deal at the eleventh hour and allowing Treasury to hit the ceiling. Although even there, it’s tough: Since the whole point of the budget deal was to avoid a pothole on the road to 2014 (i.e. a shutdown), why would Republicans then steer the car into the political equivalent of a sinkhole? In fact, why didn’t they just include a debt-ceiling hike as part of their crappy budget compromise? Better to tear the band-aid off and let the base feel a jolt of pain then to do it in stages and drag the torment out.
Incidentally, I can also imagine circumstances changing so that a GOP cave on the debt limit becomes more assured than it already is. For what it’s worth, the new ABC/WaPo poll sees views of ObamaCare rebounding from November’s depths to a more traditional level of disapproval this month. Two other polls taken over the last ten days have O-Care at net -10 and -11 support, respectively; the last time the law was below -12 was the very beginning of November. It may be that most of the downward spiral last month was driven by perceptions of the website being a humiliating failure, not the problems consumers are running into with higher premiums and smaller provider networks. That may change next month, but it’s a glimmer of hope for Democrats that views of O-Care will be relatively stable when debt-ceiling negotiations begin, which will convince some Republicans that the law’s not as vulnerable as they’d hoped it would be.