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Republicans are long shots in the debt ceiling debate, but they might have to roll the dice

The debt ceiling debate is swinging into motion yet again, with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew setting a new deadline for Congress: the end of the month.

So here we find ourselves again, wondering whether Congress will push another deadline (of course it will) or even risk breaching it and inviting potentially serious consequences.

At their Tuesday meeting, Republicans are expected to hash out how they want to proceed, and they're likely to seek concessions in exchange for hiking the debt limit -- something the White House has said is a non-starter.

The real question is how far Republicans can take this fight.

According to early polling, the answer to that question is: not very far.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll released Monday showed 54 percent of Americans would blame Republicans if a deal isn't reached, while just 29 percent would blame President Obama. (Another 12 percent said they would blame both sides equally.)

That's a gap of 25 points -- pretty striking.

What's most striking about those numbers, though, is that they are actually more lopsided than the blame game was during the government shutdown, according to most polls.

Toward the end of that battle, the same CNN poll showed 18 percent more people blamed Republicans than Obama (52-34). A CBS News poll showed people blamed Republicans over Obama and the Democrats by an 11-point margin (46-35), while a Washington Post-ABC poll showed people blamed Republicans by a 24-point margin (53-29).

In other words, at the outset of the debt ceiling debate, people are already prepared to blame Republicans as much or more than they did at the very end the government shutdown -- when Republicans were forced to throw in the towel because they were being savaged for their ill-fated effort to defund Obamacare. That's not exactly fighting from a position of strength.

(Caveat alert: Things can certainly change as the debt ceiling debate progresses, but Republicans were unable to shift public sentiment during the shutdown debate, and we would humbly suggest that Americans will probably see these two issues in pretty similar lights.)

Now, if this were simply about what was the most politically advantageous for Republicans, it would seem pretty obvious that GOP leaders would do whatever it took to avoid breaching the debt limit, up to and including a clean hike. But as with the government shutdown, Republicans have to deal with a base that is going to demand concessions -- something Republicans, it should be noted, did receive during the 2011 debt ceiling debate.

But if the new CNN poll is an indication, Obama and the White House have very little reason to back down one iota from their insistence on a clean debt ceiling hike.

And if Republicans see another shutdown-esque train wreck in the making, they might cave a little -- or a lot -- quicker than last time.


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