Anyone trying to game out the next debt limit showdown needs to stop, take a deep breath, and realize that we’re talking about an event that will happen in early 2013. In other words, after the elections. And the 2012 election cycle is still entirely up in the air. I don’t think any outcome involving a Republican president and a Democratic House is plausible, but all of the other permutations are entirely possible.

Yeah, I’m gonna list them. We could have President Obama with a Democratic House and Senate; Obama with a Republican House and Democratic Senate; Obama with a Democratic House and Republican Senate; Obama with a Republican House and Senate; President Romney with a Republican House and Senate; or Romney with a Republican House and Democratic Senate.

If you pinned me down and made me guess today, I’d probably go for the status quo as the most likely and unified Democratic control as the least likely, but really I have absolutely no idea how any of this is going to turn out, and neither do any of the people who are going to be making decisions about legislative strategy.

On top of that, the margins of control, especially in the Senate, and perhaps even the margin of victory in the presidential race could all factor into what happens in January. As could changes in the world, whether it’s the economy or foreign policy or something else unexpected.  Oh — and are we absolutely sure that John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid all keep their jobs? I’m not. Most likely, yes, but there’s still a long time before November.

All of which makes me think that while it’s certainly worthwhile noting any scheduled decision points, it’s way, way too early to have much of a sense of how they will play out.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.