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June 2012
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HIGH GROUND GOP's debt limit task is to play it smart

Remember how just after President Obama was elected to his first term a bedazzled media proclaimed him the "post-partisan president"?

Boy did they ever get that wrong.

Those who had followed Obama's brief tenure in Congress surely knew better - he had the most liberal voting record of any member at the time - but the national media is easily swept up in storylines these days, even when facts don't support them.

So it is that as February approaches with yet another deadline for raising the national debt limit, the president is serving notice to Congress that he won't negotiate on the issue. Raise the limit, get nothing in return, or else. The White House, through various spokesmen over the weekend, is pushing the line that it is the "duty" of Congress to raise the limit (ad infinitum, apparently) no questions asked.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell fairly points out that during the 50 years prior to last October's debt limit standoff there has always been a trade off, usually in the form of reduced spending, in return for raising the limit. Indeed polls as recently as last October (when the debt limit battle led to a partial government shutdown) showed a majority of Americans oppose raising the debt limit without some corresponding reduction in government spending.

McConnell says the president's demand that Congress deliver a no-strings-attached increase in the limit or face the prospect of another shutdown is "irresponsible."

He's right about that. And the president's position on the matter appears to go against the will of a majority of the American people.

But the president also knows, as was proved last October, that Americans by overwhelming margins oppose a government shutdown regardless of the justification. And for whatever reason, recent history shows when there is a shutdown congressional Republicans get blamed and pay the price in opinion polls.

That puts the GOP in a tough spot. Largely due to public unhappiness over Obamacare and the false promises that accompanied the program, congressional generic preference polls show Republicans favored over Democrats for the first time in years. The last thing the GOP needs to do is flip those numbers mere months ahead of the mid-term elections by getting blamed for another shutdown.

So the best Republicans may be able to accomplish is to float proposals on which they have the moral high ground, and then yield grudgingly to the president in the name of not putting the country through more dysfunction. Done skillfully, they may be able to make the point this time around that it is Obama, not Republicans in Congress, who is acting irresponsibly.

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