Averting the debt-limit disaster?

AVERTING THE DEBT-LIMIT DISASTER?…. Sen.-elect Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania will immediately become one of the chamber’s most far-right members, especially on economic issues. So when it comes to next year’s vote on raising the debt limit, Toomey seems like the kind of conservative who’d balk.

But asked about this the other day, Toomey resisted the urge to saber-rattle. He lamented the deficit, but told MSNBC that “defaulting on existing debt” isn’t something the United States can do.

It was the first hint of what may be a larger trend. Dave Weigel noted yesterday that some GOP leaders have started to hedge on their once-inflexible positions on this, suggesting a disaster may yet be averted. John Boehner, for example, conceded, “Increasing the debt limit allows our government to meet its obligations. And I think that there are multiple options for how you deal with it.”

Granted, my standards for these guys are pretty low, but this doesn’t sound like the kind of thing a House Speaker would say if he intends to deliberately cause a global financial catastrophe.

This is not to say we don’t have a problem here. Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has said over the weekend that he’ll vote to send the country into default, as a way of sending “a message.” Sen.-elect Mike Lee (R-Utah) has said something similar. RNC Chairman Michael Steele said last week, “We are not going to compromise on raising the debt ceiling.”

But Boehner’s comments yesterday suggest cooler heads may yet prevail.

Keep in mind, votes to raise the federal debt limit have traditionally been routine and bipartisan, but for months, the far-right has eyed this upcoming vote — due early next year — as an opportunity, not a crisis. Bruce Bartlett warned two weeks ago:

…I am very fearful that it will be impossible to raise the debt limit, which would bring about a default and real, honest-to-God bankruptcy — something many Tea Party-types have openly called for in an insane belief that this will somehow or other impose fiscal discipline on out-of-control government spending without forcing them to vote either for spending cuts or tax increases.

Just to be perfectly clear, if the new Republican majority in the House blocks an effort to raise the debt limit, this tells the world that the country isn’t in a position to repay its debts. U.S. treasuries, considered the safest investment on earth, would no longer have the backing of the full faith and credit of the United States. The result is a government shutdown — and a whole lot more.

Remarks from Boehner, Toomey, and some of their cohorts suggest they won’t actually let matters get that far.