WHITE HOUSE STILL EXPECTS A CLEAN DEBT-CEILING BILL…. The Wall Street Journal ran a thin, unsourced piece this morning, arguing that the White House is “open to a deal” with Republicans on raising the debt ceiling. Since the president and his team have called for a clean bill, the WSJ piece caused a whole lot of anguish.

The fears were understandable — this is a White House that’s made preemptive concessions before — but the problem was with the article itself. The WSJ piece was devoid of any useful information, featuring no quotes or even blind paraphrases from anyone at any level in the administration.

Jon Chait said that if I were right, the White House would distance itself from the Journal article. That seemed fair. Greg Sargent reported today that Press Secretary Jay Carney did just that this afternoon.

[A] bunch of people — myself included — jumped on a Wall Street Journal report this morning claiming that the White House is open to a deal on the debt ceiling. But as Steve Benen aptly notes, the report was very thinly sourced, if at all, and was a bad basis for a freak-out.

Indeed, in the briefing, Carney seemed to deny the report, reiterating that the White House doesn’t want any link between the debt ceiling vote and the GOP’s demand for deeper spending cuts. “We don’t believe that there should be a link between efforts to address our long term deficit problem and the imperative of raising the debt ceiling,” Carney said.

In other words, the White House line is the same today as it was yesterday as it was last week.

In related news, there was also widespread apoplexy this morning that President Obama would embrace the Simpson/Bowles deficit-reduction plan as his own tomorrow, and Carney knocked that down, too, and it appears Simpson-Bowles “will not be the primary foundation for Obama’s speech.”

As for concerns that the White House has been less-than explicit in criticizing Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget plan, Carney also said today that the GOP agenda “fails the test of balance, and balance is essential.” Carney went on to agree that the Ryan budget is “fundamentally unfair.”

Obviously the substance of tomorrow’s speech is paramount, but all things being equal, these three messages from the White House seemed like a step in the right direction.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.