Why Does Obama Want a Debt Ceiling Fight?


In the past, both Democrats and Republicans have used fights over the debt ceiling to embarrass the opposition party whenever it happened to be in power. Yawn. But they’ve never threatened to vote against raising the ceiling in order to extort goodies of one kind or another from the president. Obama, however, has indicated he’s open to just this kind of extortion, and Republicans are eager to take him up on it. Jon Chait:

I don’t really blame the Republicans for this, either. If Obama is going to begin by saying he’d like a straight vote on the debt ceiling but is willing to make policy concessions, what do you expect the Republicans to do? Keep in mind, the assumption that the Congressional minority can use the debt ceiling as a hostage to win substantive policy the president opposes is entirely novel. Obama has introduced this new development.

Jon calls this Obama’s “insane hostage bargaining strategy,” but I think we should at least admit the possibility that Obama is neither stupid nor insane. Sticking firmly to a negotiating position is hardly rocket science, after all, and all analogies to poker playing aside, it’s hardly plausible that Obama doesn’t get this. So surely the most likely explanation for his position is that he wants Republicans to make demands on him.

I don’t know exactly why he wants this. Maybe he’s itching for a fight. Maybe he thinks it will make Republicans look bad. Maybe he wants to cut spending but would rather give the appearance of having been forced into it. I don’t know. But he’s pretty obviously inviting Republicans to do this, not just stumbling into it accidentally. The only question is why.

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