January 18, 2013

Not surprisingly, Democrats are greeting the House GOP’s plan for a three month debt ceiling hike as an admission that the debt limit strategy has been a total failure for Republicans, and that the threat of default gives the party no leverage. And they are responding by putting still more pressure on Republicans.

Here, for instance, is the statement from Nancy Pelosi’s office, giving the GOP offer a quasi-thumbs down and insisting on a clean debt ceiling hike:

We need a clean debt ceiling increase and a bipartisan and balanced budget that protects Medicare and Social Security, invests in the future, and responsibly reduces the deficit.

This proposal does not relieve the uncertainty faced by small businesses, the markets and the middle class. This is a gimmick unworthy of the challenges we face and the national debate we should be having. The message from the American people is clear: no games, no default.

This is getting very, very interesting. Pelosi is leaving the statement deliberately vague. It demands that Republicans go all the way and formally remove the thread of default from the discussions for good. But it isn’t quite conclusive on whether Pelosi could support a clean three month debt ceiling increase in the end. The idea seems to be that by leaving this unclear, it leaves the GOP still twisting in the wind.

A House Dem aide tells me the goal is to put pressure on Boehner to come up with the votes for this himself, at a time when House conservatives may not be willing to support the three month extension, since it amounts to surrender. The other point here is that Pelosi is signaling that if Boehner tries to include any trickery in the three month debt ceiling bill, he’ll have to find the votes for it himself.

Meanwhile, here’s the White House statement:

The President has made clear that Congress has only two options: pay the bills they have racked up, or fail to do so and put our nation into default. We are encouraged that there are signs that Congressional Republicans may back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education and programs middle class families depend on. Congress must pay its bills and pass a clean debt limit increase without further delay. And as he has said, the President remains committed to further reducing the deficit in a balanced way.

This also seems to deliberately keep it vague on whether the White House could ultimately support a clean three month extension. And it keeps the drumbeat going that Republicans are continuing to retreat.

Ultimately the game plan here is all about forcing Boehner to show that he can come up with 218 Republican votes for his three month extension, or whether he risks another conservative revolt and a “Plan B” fiasco, in which he ultimately can’t get the votes himself and again reveals his lack of control over the Tea Party caucus.

As I keep saying: The correct position for Democrats is that if Republicans won’t drop the threat of default, it’s their problem. Lather, rinse, repeat. Dems seem to be sticking to this hard line posture.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.