* Oy. It turns out we’re heading for a debt limit showdown at the end of February, earlier than expected, and a spokesman for John Boehner says Dems had better get ready to pony up:

“The speaker has said that we should not default on our debt, or even get close to it, but a ‘clean’ debt limit increase simply won’t pass in the House. We hope and expect the White House will work with us on a timely, fiscally responsible solution.”

One supposes this means the press will again play along with the charade that the debt ceiling gives Republicans leverage, and that agreeing to avert economic chaos constitutes a concession on their part, for which they should be rewarded.

* Jason Cherkins has a terrific piece explaining the historical background of Mitch McConnell’s new ad touting his efforts to get health care to energy plant workers who desperately needed it. Interesting nugget: Union officials say the plant in the ad — long important to McConnell’s political identity — is laying off workers and could now become a political liability.

* Igor Volsky explains how exactly McConnell secured health care for sick workers, and notes that the Senator has a history of bringing in federal funds for coverage, even as he keeps describing Obamacare’s benefits as “free health care.”

* Jed Lewison on how the McConnell ad shows that even Republicans know a continued total-repeal stance is politically untenable.

* With Obama’s State of the Union set for next week, here’s Paul Krugman on why it’s good economics, and good politics, to talk about the need to combat inequality as a way into the debate over job creation.

* Jonathan Chait offers a simple prescription for Republicans whose austerity obsession has made showing feeling for the poor impossible: Rekindle that Dick Cheney “deficits don’t matter” magic once again.

* Luke Johnson demonstrates that Patty Murray’s new opposition to the Iran sanctions bill really does show momentum shifting against a vote.

* Ron Kampeas has a fascinating piece explaining from the inside why AIPAC’s push for a sanctions bill may be getting stymied by a group of Senate Dems who are holding the line, which could result in AIPAC finding a face-saving way out.

* Jonathan Bernstein is good on why the new voting panel’s recommendations are likely to go nowhere: “Voting should be easy for everyone. There are reasons it’s not.”

* Steve Benen is even more blunt:

Republicans have come to the conclusion that the more voters are able to participate, the harder it is to GOP candidates to succeed. The result has been predictable: a policy agenda that creates longer voting lines on purpose, closes early-voting windows, addresses imaginary voter fraud through punitive voter-ID laws, and restricts voter-registration drives.

* Hardline Obamacare foe Conn Carroll offers a real answer to my question as to what Republicans should say to the millions who would lose coverage if the law is repealed. Policy details aside, the key is Republicans know they can’t say they’d take that coverage away.

* And Atrios asks: Now that Republicans are delivering two responses to the State of the Union address (one from the Tea Party), how many networks will play along?

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