Obama or GOP: Who Has the Edge in Debt Fight?

| Tue Jul. 5, 2011 2:58 PM EDT

My perceptive pals at NBC News' First Read have a good take on the current state of play in the debt ceiling show-down: 

*** Who’s got the leverage? So who's got the leverage in the debt-limit talks? Leverage depends on who the negotiators are answering to. For instance, the White House believes it has the most leverage because swing voters and independent voters simply want a deal done. They are exhausted from the Washington political games, the gridlock, the inability to solve problems. (By the way, this Congress is on pace to be one of the least productive in history.) GOP leaders think THEY have the leverage, because there are NO cracks in the base and they have their own polling showing that, while independents are turned off by the process, they do NOT want taxes raised and want to see government cut. Bottom line: Republicans believe that on the SUBSTANCE, the middle is with them (if they sell it properly), even if on PROCESS, the middle might be more on the side of the president. (Of course, there's a reason the president uses the phrase "balanced approach" all the time; it's their argument on substance). President Obama is expected to engage in talks Wednesday either on Capitol Hill or at the White House, but will it be with Republican leaders as well? That's in question.

*** Victory is in the eye of the voter: It also looks like Republicans don’t want to hand President Obama something that looks like a victory, in a presidential election cycle; that would cause the base to erupt even more than a perceived tax hike. The GOP, though, can already be granted a measure of victory for dictating the terms of the debate – all about spending cuts. But will that be enough for the base? Senate Republicans are open to the idea of a short-term deal (something really no one wants) with some revenue raisers, like eliminating ethanol subsidies. But House Republicans don’t want more than one vote before the end of 2012 and know they have dwindling capital with their Tea Party freshmen.

That's a fine analysis. But President Barack Obama has not yet resorted to one piece of potentially potent ammo: the charge that the GOPs are super-crazy, reckless ideologues willing to risk destroying the economy to protect their beloved tax breaks for the rich. He certainly has sort of made that point in a self-described "restrained" fashion. But the president hasn't truly unloaded on the opposition. He usually doesn't. He'd rather take the high and responsible road and work out a deal. So there's no expectation he will slam the Rs in such a manner now. But were he to do so, would that change any of the handicapping?

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