Reality seems to be enjoying a sudden burst of momentum this afternoon, as more Republicans and conservatives are coming out and acknowledging the debt ceiling will have to be raised. The latest: GOP Senator Susan Collins.
Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley emails me:
Senator Collins recognizes that the debt ceiling is going to have to be raised because the U.S. cannot default on its obligations to pay for spending that has already occurred.
But she is frustrated that the Administration, time and time again, keeps putting off the hard decisions on spending that our country must confront.
Collins’ statement is key, in part because she’s accurately noting that not raising the debt ceiling will do nothing more than cause the country to default on obligations Congress has already incurred, and in part because she’s conspicuously not tying the need for a debt ceiling hike to the spending cuts she says we need.
This comes after a number of other Republicans and conservatives seem to be telling the GOP that the debt ceiling game is over. Senator Lisa Murkowski has now said the debt ceiling must be raised. Former GOP Senator (and all around Very Serious Person) Alan Simpson told CNBC today that the GOP is making a serious mistake in using the debt ceiling as leverage. And even the Tea Party group Americans for Prosperity said today that it’s time for the GOP to dial down the debt ceiling brinksmanship.
The decision by these GOP senators to declare that the debt ceiling must be raised could embolden Senate Dems to hold a vote either on a clean debt ceiling hike or on the McConnell provision, which would transfer authority over the debt ceiling to the president. The gamble would be that Mitch McConnell might not filibuster it, kicking it over to the House to solve (McConnell bowed to political reality on the fiscal cliff and reached a deal with the White House which was sent to the House), or that enough Senate Republicans might break ranks to allow Dems to break a filibuster (which McConnell might not mind all that much, since it would get the GOP out of this jam). If the Senate did pass something defusing the debt ceiling crisis, it would put tremendous pressure on John Boehner to allow a vote on it, and it might pass with a lot of Democratic support.
Alternatively, if more and more Republicans come out and voice opposition to using the debt ceiling as a weapon for leverage, the House GOP leadership might opt instead to reach a deal with the White House and Dems on the sequester that includes spending cuts but also new revenues, and attach a debt ceiling hike to that. (Presumably this would pass with a lot of Dem support, too.) This way, Republicans could say they “won something” in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, even if it didn’t play a meaningful part in the talks at all.
UPDATE: To be clear, if the House GOP leadership does ultimately hold a vote on something approaching a balanced deal — with a debt limit hike attached — it might end up having to be negotiated first between McConnell and the White House, just as the fiscal cliff deal was.