Are we heading for another debt ceiling fight?

Believe it or not, it’s already time to start posing that question.

Remember, the temporary authorization of the debt ceiling hike House Republicans agreed to came in mid January, and it was a three month extension. That means we’ll be needing to raise the debt ceiling again next month.

Asked if House Republicans would demand anything in exchange for the next debt ceiling hike, a House GOP aide emailed me: “Stay tuned.”

Here’s how this all fits in with the sequester and the government shutdown fight. Ever since Obama signaled that he supports extending funding of the government past the shutdown deadline of March 27th at the levels agreed to in the 2011 Budget Control Act — which would continue funding at the lower sequester levels, since the sequester will be operative — it has been more or less a foregone conclusion that this is what’s going to happen. House Republicans have rolled out legislation to continue funding the government at the sequester levels through September, with some steps taken to mitigate damage to defense. It seems likely that Democrats will accept this, or that they will push their own minor changes to the non-defense side and that some kind of deal will be reached with Republicans to keep that funding going. Either way, the funding of the government will continue at the lower level.

That brings us to the debt ceiling hike next month as the point around which the next fight could take place.

On the one hand, there’s reason to suspect  that House Republicans might not want to wage another stand around the debt ceiling. They already caved in the last go around, and in so doing, showed that they aren’t really willing to let the country go into default — meaning it will be hard for them to convincingly suggest they’re willing to do that this time. And the business community will again go into hyper-drive against any such move. The question remains, though, whether conservatives will pressure the House GOP leadership to provoke another standoff around the debt ceiling and to demand more spending cuts — such as to entitlements, which are mostly exempt from the sequester — in exchange for any hike. And here, you have to hope that John Boehner will be able to tamp down any desire for further confrontation by pointing out that Republicans are already getting deep spending cuts with the sequester. But this is hardly assured.

And to add to the complexity, all this could unfold even as Democrats are hoping to exploit the pain the sequester will cause to force Republicans back to the table to replace the sequester with some kind of “grand bargain” that trades entitlement cuts for new revenues.

All of which is to say that government-by-crisis may be with us for a good long while.

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