He crumbled like a sandcastle at high tide

Just two weeks ago President Obama was taking a very firm stand on the debt ceiling. He was claiming he would never again allow something so dangerous to be used as a political bargaining chip, but almost immediately he crumbled like a sandcastle at high tide. President Obama went from demanding a permanent solution to the debt ceiling to accepting only a two year increase from Republicans as part large budget deal.

There is still some disagreement on this point. Speaker John Boehner wants a one year increase while Obama wants a two year increase, but in the grand scheme of things this difference is minor. What is important is that Obama appears ready to effectively agree that a temporarily debt ceiling increase is a concession from Republicans in a deal.

When Republicans in 2011 for the first time threatened to use the debt ceiling to make demands and the President went along with it, that “weaponized” the debt ceiling. But what Obama is prepared to do now is even more dangerous, that is to “normalize” this behavior.

Even worse, by destroying his own credibility on the issue Obama has made it now infinitely harder for him to try to fix this problem in the future. Obama claimed he learned his lesson and won’t allow Congress to play games with the debt ceiling again, but then quickly folded. What this means is if in a year or two Obama tries to claim this time he is serious about not playing games with the debt ceiling, no one will believe him. Obama is is now the President who cried wolf.

This is a recipe for a brutal fight when the issue comes up again. Even if Obama does grow a backbone on this issue, the fact that Republicans will have every reason to believe Obama will blink first significantly reduces the chances of a quick and less damaging resolution.

Photo by david_s_carter under Creative Commons license.