Obama will have to horse trade for a debt-ceiling hike

National Journal’s whip count on Capitol Hill confirms what most have known for some time, which is that Congress won’t give Barack Obama the “clean” debt-ceiling hike he’d obviously prefer.  The question will be how much President Obama will have to trade to get it, and that may depend on just who holds out:

National Journal compiled a “whip list” below detailing the stated position of senators on a vote to significantly raise the debt limit without any cuts attached, or on a “clean” vote. The list is based on interviews, statements, other press reports and statements by Senate Republican leaders on the collective views of GOP conference members. Lawmakers’ descriptions of circumstances in which they would back an increase are noted. At least 50 senators, including several Democrats, have signaled they oppose a clean vote to raise the $14.3 billion [sic] statutory debt ceiling. That is enough to block it.

The endangered 2012 incumbents still seem less than solid on spending cuts and systemic reform, although a few have gotten the message:

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., flatly oppose an increase without a major commitment to cuts. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., are undecided.

But most Senate Democrats said they would support a clean increase. Support is strong even among moderates and members likely to face stiff challenges in 2012. That is a sign the argument that Congress should not “play chicken” with the government’s credit is exerting political influence. With the health of financial markets at issue, Democrats do not believe support for raising the debt ceiling is electorally untenable.

Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Herb Kohl, D-Wis., Bob Casey, D-Penn.,Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Tom Carper, D-Del., all up next year, said in interviews or through spokespeople that they would back a clean increase, though most want deficit talks too.

Politico reports that the White House has been trying to get the media to cool the doomsday approach to reporting on the issue in order to keep Republicans from gaining too much leverage in the debate.  That stands in marked contrast to the administration’s approach earlier this year, when it sent Tim Geithner and others out to talk shows to proclaim global economic annihilation if the GOP “played chicken” with the debt limit:

The White House is playing the overheating debt-ceiling debate as cool as it can, imploring reporters to downplay the drama and asking the cable networks to forego their breathless “Countdown to Catastrophe” clocks.

Yet for all their public confidence in the ultimate outcome — administration officials say even GOP firebrands won’t risk a national default and an international financial meltdown — there is a growing sense among all parties that President Barack Obama won’t be able to extend the credit limit without making significant new concessions to congressional Republicans.

Perhaps the administration might have thought through their strategy a little better from the beginning, no?   The Republicans on Capitol Hill have made it clear that they’re in no mood for bluffing:

But conservatives in the House, feeling burned by a Congressional Budget Office report revealing that the deal on the 2011 budget they just made with the president cut far less from the deficit than originally reported, are in a fighting mood, intent on pressing for bigger and more specific cuts as a condition of raising the ceiling.

Voters sent them to Washington for the express purpose of curtailing spending and restoring fiscal discipline.  The Chicken Little arguments from earlier only help underscore the necessity of significant and immediate changes to federal spending, especially in entitlements.  If we have to borrow another trillion dollars or more to stave off disaster from our escalating budgets, wouldn’t the obvious conclusion for voters to reach be that we should decrease spending rather than having to come back for another debt-ceiling increase every year?

Obama wants to put off decisions on spending cuts while imposing automatic tax-hike triggers as a tradeoff, Politico reports.  That’s also going to be a non-starter with Republicans, who aren’t going to agree to tax hikes while Democrats defer action on spending.  Thanks to the hysteria they’ve stoked on the debt issue, the White House can’t afford to hold up a deal to impose tax hikes through hands-off triggering mechanisms.  They will have to find real cuts to satisfy both Republicans and Democrats, or find themselves marginalized by the crisis they largely created.

Update: The statutory debt ceiling is $14.3 trillion, not billion, which is a mistake in the original NJ story.  I’ve added the [sic] to mark it.