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Has John Boehner surrendered on debt ceiling?

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J. Scott Applewhite/AP

(Read caption) House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to a Republican strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.

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There are numerous press reports Friday that Speaker John Boehner has told some Republican House members that he won’t hang tough on a debt ceiling fight. He’ll agree to use a combination of Democratic and establishment Republican votes to hike the ceiling so as to avoid damaging America’s credit and economy, according to these stories.

Is this really the case? Because if it’s true, that means the worst-case scenario of the current Washington fiscal crisis – a US default on its debts in the midst of a government shutdown – won’t come to pass.

We’ll get to our judgment in a second. First, a public-service reminder: The debt limit problem is separate from the fiscal dispute that’s shut down the government, strictly speaking.

The government is shut down because the appropriations that pay for its activities expired at the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30), and Congress hasn’t passed a funding bill to keep that money flowing. The debt limit arrives around Oct. 17, when the United States hits a legal limit on the amount of money it can borrow, meaning the Treasury can’t pay many debts already incurred.

The government shutdown has closed national parks. A breach of the debt limit could stop the timely delivery of Social Security checks and Medicare reimbursements, and it could freak out world financial markets dependent on the dollar as a presumed currency of stability in a chaotic world.

OK, back to Speaker Boehner. We’d say the stories that he’s soft on the debt limit are mostly true but have important holes, meaning some partisan fights on the issue might yet lie ahead.


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