The briefing was conducted under ground rules that prevent the use of direct quotations. But a senior administration official questioned the logic underlying Boehner's threat. Going into an election, the official noted, Republicans will have a hard time making the case to voters if part of their platform is another debt limit debacle.
The officials stressed that the President would like to sign significant legislation to address long term deficits, before or after the election, and that a large, balanced enough package would make raising the debt limit a formality. But if Republicans can't walk away from their anti-tax absolutism, and Congress still can't pass anything, the debt ceiling will still have to be lifted, and Boehner will have to find the votes to do that. The two issues this time will be de-linked, as the administration sees it.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) demonstrated a better grasp of the politics and the legislative landscape than Boehner in an appearance on "Face the Nation" Sunday, sidestepping the chance to join in on Boehner's threat.
"[T]he timing will be determined by the President. They -- they determine when to request of us that we raise the debt ceiling," McConnell said. "We assume that will happen at the end of the year or, early next year."
In other words, it's up to Obama, not Boehner, to set the debt ceiling process in motion. And the deadline is likely to come next year, after Congress has to address the expiring Bush tax cuts and automatic spending sequestration. Boehner has suggested he wants to link the debt limit to that fiscal cliff -- but as TPM has noted, the calendar isn't working in his favor.
Asked whether they think Boehner's simply posturing to appeal to the conservative wing of his party, an administration official joked there's likely to be less of them when the next Congress raises the debt ceiling early in 2013.