President Obama has tried to guilt, shame, and cajole House Republicans into a more flexible position on raising the debt limit. Lately his public statements have contained new pieces of evidence aimed to show House Republicans how isolated they are. Last week he mentioned the polls: Americans and a majority of Republicans support Obama's view that a final deal must include a mix of spending reductions and revenues from changes in the tax code. Today he took to the White House briefing room to herald a late-breaking bipartisan deficit-reduction agreement among six senators: "We now have a bipartisan group of senators who agree with that balanced approach." Tomorrow he may pick people out of the White House visitor's line: Mary Jones of Knoxville was just saying how much she wants us to put politics aside. ... And over here, Girl Scout Troop No. 32 supports a balanced approach!
Can the president use the gravitational force of the center to lure Republicans his way? Probably not. But he may benefit from disagreement between Senate Republicans and their more hard-line colleagues in the House, where the only thing worse than raising government revenue is cutting spending too little.
Last week the attempt to put together a "grand bargain" that included trillions in spending cuts and about a trillion in new revenue looked doomed. Senior Republican aides in the Senate were declaring the White House talks irrelevant. Time had run out, and the only way to avoid an economic catastrophe was a "failsafe" deal being put together by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid. The proposal would raise the debt limit, but include no spending cuts. There would be a committee of senators to propose reductions Congress could vote on.