Why the debt ceiling debate isn’t going better

WHY THE DEBT CEILING DEBATE ISN’T GOING BETTER…. President Obama asked Congress for a clean bill on raising the debt ceiling. No one, anywhere, believes that’s likely to happen, despite the fact that even Republican leaders agree the limit must be raised, which would appear to give the White House leverage.

And why is the process unfolding so poorly? Ordinarily, this would be about the time we start hearing how the president is too quick to compromise, too easily pushed into concessions, and ineffective against GOP hostage strategies.

While concerns about the president’s negotiating skills have merit, let’s not forget that his party makes matters far more difficult on Obama than it should.

A growing number of Democrats are threatening to defy the White House over the national debt, joining Republican calls for deficit cuts as a requirement for consenting to lift the country’s borrowing limit.

The tension is the latest illustration of how the tea-party-infused GOP is driving the debate in Washington over federal spending. And it shows how the debt issue is testing the Obama administration’s clout as Democrats, particularly those from politically competitive states, resist White House arguments against setting conditions on legislation to raise the debt ceiling.

The push-back has come in recent days from Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a freshman who is running for reelection next year. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told constituents during the Easter recess that he would not vote to lift the debt limit without a “real and meaningful commitment to debt reduction.”

Even Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), generally a stalwart White House ally, is undecided on the issue and is “hopeful” that a debt-ceiling bill can be attached to a measure to cut the federal deficit, said her spokesman, Linden Zakula. Klobuchar is also up for reelection next year.

This is painfully ridiculous. Every sane policymaker in Washington knows that to play with the debt ceiling is to play with fire. Delays in the process invite an easily avoidable crisis. It’s absurd that Republicans are so reckless as to attach a series of conditions to this, but for Democrats — including some who really ought to know better — to buy into this suggests the “Beltway deficit feedback loop” is drowning out all reason.

It’s worth keeping this in mind because it helps explain why the White House’s negotiating efforts aren’t more effective. It’s not just Obama vs. the GOP, Obama vs. the media; it’s also Obama vs. panicky Dems who are reluctant to do the right thing because they fear voters will be mad at them.