I put these concerns in question form for two reasons.
First, I’m not saying that the administration is mishandling this non-negotiation. Especially given Republicans’ assumption, based on past performance, that the president will ultimately blink, Obama may be right to err on the side of chest-thumping.
Second, let’s be clear: The fundamental fault is with Republicans who have been willing to push the boundaries of debt-ceiling brinkmanship to dangerous new extremes.
The need to lift the debt ceiling has regularly been an occasion to obtain budgetary concessions. But the tacit understanding has always been that the limit would be lifted in the end. The know-nothing notion that default would not be disastrous, whether on Treasury bonds or other government obligations, reflects the emergence of a new, scary faction of the Republican Party.
But the administration has a thin and wobbly tightrope to walk. The White House does not want to signal openness to negotiating on the debt ceiling.
At the same time it does not want to let Republicans successfully cast Obama and Democrats as the intransigent ones. That path becomes even more politically precarious as Republicans edge the discussion away from the unthinkable (repeal/defund/delay Obamacare) into the realm of the traditionally negotiable (discussions of spending levels, tax reform and the like).
Thus the president at the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday and his press conference Tuesday repeatedly touting his willingness to negotiate — later. “I am willing to work through all those issues,” Obama told reporters. “The only thing that our democracy can’t afford is a situation where one side says, unless I get my way and only my way, unless I get concessions before we even start having a serious give-and-take, I’ll threaten to shut down the government, or I will threaten to not pay America’s bills.”