The next fiscal apocalypse: The debt ceiling debate

The result of all this is that everyone—hardcore conservatives, sensible moderates, Socialist former mayors of Burlington—understands that “staving off a crisis” is the best way to get your message heard. Rahm Emanuel previewed Barack Obama’s agenda by saying, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Republicans see the debt ceiling vote as a crisis not to be wasted.

“Imagine what would happen if Moody’s downgraded the rating before the vote,” said one GOP aide, explaining what Republicans might do to make sure the debt ceiling debate starts with serious discussions of deep spending cuts. “That would turn this place upside down.”

No one should read too much into the failure of conservative groups—and the vast majority of Republicans—to oppose a tax deal that doesn’t pay for itself. It’s not supposed to pay for itself. It sets the table for a few months in which conservatives and Republicans can organize around the cuts and assaults on sacred cows that could prevent the need to raise the debt ceiling. That will mean more YouCut-style contests for user-driven spending reductions, but it will mean larger, more serious attacks on entitlements, too. You can’t really have that debate unless you’re trying to stave off a crisis.