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House Democrats And The Debt Ceiling

Nobody has paid much attention to what House Democrats think about the debt ceiling vote. But, given that large chunks of the GOP caucus will not support any debt ceiling increase, Democratic votes will be needed. And it's not necessarily safe to assume that House Democrats will line up behind whatever deal President Obama cuts. For one thing, they might not like the deal. For another, their political incentive structure is very different than Obama's. Pay close attention to a pair of recent comments by Nancy Pelosi. Here she is saying that the Republicans will bear the brunt of public economic frustration:

It is very hard historically it is –- you can see the charge. When the jobs are –- the unemployment rate is high, it's hard for the incumbent to win. I remind you, though, we're not the incumbent. The Republicans are the incumbents.

And here she is casually playing the kind of chicken on the debt ceiling that Obama won't play:

On Sunday, Pelosi indicated in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Republicans shouldn’t count on support from her caucus for the legislation — which must pass by early August to avoid a default on the nation’s debt — unless they are willing to consider boosting taxes as well as cutting spending.
“We’ve all said we would vote for the full faith and credit of the United States to be honored by voting for this increase in the debt ceiling,” the Democratic leader said. “If they don’t want to do taxes, maybe they don’t want to do anything.”

Think through what happens if the government defaults on its debt. You have an economic crisis. People get mad at House Republicans, which helps Obama, but the economy also teeters, which ultimately hurts Obama but does not hurt House Democrats very much. Indeed, a default crisis would seem to increase the chances of the 2012 elections producing a Republican president and a Democratic House. I suspect Pelosi knows that.