Debt Ceiling Debate: High Hopes and Low Expectations

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Hopes are high but expectations are low for the coming debate over the debt ceiling. Congress is scheduled to return to session next week with only one month before the suspension of the statutory spending limit expires, and already Democrats and Republicans are taking positions in the trenches that have been dug on either side of the aisle.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who helped broker the stopgap deal in October that ended the partial government shutdown and suspended the debt ceiling until February 7, is expected to champion the conservative position in the debate. The five-term senator faces reelection in 2014 and, despite a fairly strong reputation with many conservatives, is facing pressure from the far right. In part, this is because he has reached across the aisle in order to conduct the business of the nation — or, as those even farther to the right would frame it, he acquiesced.

“I doubt if the House, or for that matter, the Senate, is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase,” McConnell said in December. Although he hasn’t outlined any of the specific conditions he wants to put on the table, spending cuts are likely at the top of the list.

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