The top Democrat on the House Ways & Means Committee said Tuesday morning that the odds remain against the United States breaching its debt ceiling, in spite of Republican threats not to raise it without matching spending cuts.
"I think the odds are that we won't do it," Rep. Sandy Levin told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. He called that belief both "a matter of faith" and "a matter of consequence." The Michigan lawmaker added, "Those who say, 'OK let's toy with that'—they're toying with the American economy, and they're toying with the global economy. … It seems brave to talk about doing that but the closer you get to that cliff I think the less likely you'll plunge the U.S. over it."
On a sterner note he said that while the threat of not raising the debt ceiling is "damn dangerous," he cautioned Republicans that "I don't think it's a weapon that would move us." In this he echoed President Obama who has repeatedly said that the debt ceiling is non-negotiable.
The problem Obama and Democrats have is the widespread perception that the president is unlikely to stick to his guns. But there's a flipside problem too: Suppose Obama really does stand by his guns. It's a good idea in high stakes negotiations to leave your opponent an out so that they can back down without losing too much face. After having to swallow a tax hike Republicans have made a great show of how they're going to extract painful spending cuts from Obama using the debt ceiling as leverage. If they don't it will become a clear surrender.
I asked Levin about that. "I don't think it's a matter of saving face, really," he said. "The president was right to be blunt." In the end, he said, either the GOP will refuse to raise the debt ceiling, which would bring catastrophic economic consequences, or they will agree to a balanced approach to dealing with the country's fiscal problems.