Chris Cillizza, Ezra Klein take the pulse of the debt ceiling debate

at 10:54 AM ET, 07/28/2011

Momentum appears to be on House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) side in his push for 217 votes for his debt ceiling compromise with Indiana Gov. and former George W. Bush Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels (R) endorsing the deal this morning.

Assuming Boehner can get the bill through the House later today, the question will be just how hard a line Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to take on the short-term debt ceiling increase in the House bill.

Given that Reid’s own bill contains cuts but no revenue increases it seems like he and Senate Democrats (and maybe the White House too) are in the mood to compromise.

The question is what concessions they can wring from House Republicans so that a deal doesn’t look like total capitulation to Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

And then, depending on how much the bill is changed, can Boehner rally his so-far difficult conference one more time — or has he expended all of his political capital on what looks like a win in today’s vote?

We’ve moved from cautiously pessimistic to cautiously optimistic over the last 24 hours thanks in large part to Boehner’s ability to rally Republicans for the House bill. If that deal collapses sometime today — and the last 96 hours show that anything is possible — we take it all back.

Click after the jump for Ezra’s take.

Ezra Klein writes:

Conventional wisdom in Washington is that Boehner's plan will pass the House today. It will get virtually no Democratic support, but Republicans will respond to the full-court press of their leadership team and fall into line. The next step then is the Senate, where Boehner's bill doesn't have a chance. So we're back to, if not square one, whatever square we've been at for the past few days.

For weeks, this has been the story of the debt-ceiling negotiations: A lot happening, nothing changing. Graybeards will tell you that this is all necessary. That the various players and parties and sides can't really compromise until they see their bills fail, feel the pressure of a deadline, and come to believe their leaders did everything in their power to push for a purer outcome. Anyone who thought we were going to resolve this before the last minute was sorely mistaken.

Washington never resolves anything before the last minute, and that's because it's only at the last minute that the two parties are so exhausted, disappointed and fearful that they're prepared to cut a deal to get the whole thing over with. So long as there's two months, two weeks, two days or even, at times, two hours left on the clock, there's always hope you can get something better.

That's how it went during the government shutdown. We passed the deal six minutes after midnight. Technically, the federal government had already shut down. But if that bill had failed, it wouldn't have been the end of the world. A government shutdown isn't desirable, but nor is it unprecedented. Default, or debt prioritization, or whatever you want to call it, is -- and no, don't tell me about that time in 1979 when Treasury's staff got overwhelmed and they sent out some checks late. If it's August 1st or the wee hours of August 2nd and the two parties come out with some ugly compromise that no one likes and that fails in a TARP-esque vote on the floor of the House, we don't really know what will happen next in the market, or in the economy, or even in Washington. But by waiting till the last minute, we're risking finding out.

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