By Tory Newmyer
October 24, 2015

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

Back on August 23, 2011, the headlines out of Washington blared alarm. Ten days hence, the U.S. Treasury would exhaust the extraordinary measures it was employing to service the federal government’s debt, pitching the country into the certain calamity of its first ever default. The stop-and-start negotiations between Speaker John Boehner and President Obama toward a broader budget deal that would lift the debt ceiling had just broken down again. It was hardly clear whether the leaders could grope their way toward a solution that avoided a manmade fiscal disaster, let alone how.

Today, the debt limit countdown clock once again shows only ten days remain to a default. House Republicans insist now as they did then they can’t muster the support necessary to hike the debt limit without attaching entitlement cuts that are a non-starter for Obama, ready with his veto pen. Yet nobody’s panicking. Could it simply be that years of brinkmanship have inured us to living dangerously? Yes. And it’d be folly to try to state with full confidence what a House Republican conference these days governed mostly by fear and loathing will do next. Consider that amid this could-be crisis, a long-suffering Boehner intends this coming week to hand his speaker’s gavel to Paul Ryan, by outward appearances a baton-passing on a high wire during an earthquake.

But despite the seeming chaos, the route to a resolution is already presenting itself: A debt limit raise with no strings attached. Most House Republicans consider that anathema. Boehner, on his way out, only needs 32 of them. Last year in February, 28 House Republicans joined with Democrats to approve just such a move. Of that group, 19 remain in office, but in a pinch, the balance should materialize. “They have the votes,” one senior Democratic Senate aide says. “It’s a pretty safe assumption this will be solved with relatively little drama.” Note those hard-earned qualifications. Solving this problem won’t presage much for Ryan, who stands to reap the whirlwind. But weary Washington watchers should take the wins as they come.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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