What would Rahm do?

Math has never been my strong suit, but even for me, the crisis gripping the nation and the world is easy to understand. The Republicans, who control the House, are holding raising the $14.3 trillion debtcceiling by Aug. 2 hostage to cuts in government programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, of equal amounts to the increase, and accomplished with no increase in taxes. The Democrats, for the most part, are willing to go along, except they’d like tax increases on the rich to alleviate some of the cuts to programs that affect their constituencies. 

And Democrats are mindful of President Obama’s bottom line that whatever bill comes to his desk for his signature must increase the borrowing limit enough to free him from having to worry about its rearing its alarming head until after he’s reelected in November 2012. The Republicans, on the other hand, want to hurt Obama’s chances at a second term, so they want a stopgap plan, cuts in lots of programs, no taxes, but designed so the president will have to revisit the debt-ceiling issue before the 2012 presidential election.

And so we had the long, sweaty weekend in Washington with news junkies like me following bulletins showing that agreement remained elusive and the markets around the world were going to react and credit rating agencies like Moody’s might lower our country’s tip-top rating — the worry being that on Aug. 3 the U.S. government would not have enough money in its accounts to pay its bills, including — the scariest scenario — checks to Social Security recipients and soldiers.

So I was checking my BlackBerry as I walked my dog on the shores of Lake Michigan late Sunday afternoon, to see how the Asian markets were reacting. The Asian markets? If I’ve ever checked them before in my adult life it was never on a Sunday afternoon.

I kept wondering as I walked, “What would Rahm do?” — as in, our new mayor here in Chicago.

Chicagoan Bill Daley, now Rahm’s replacement as Obama’s chief of staff, went on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday and explained, “We may have a few stressful days coming up,” but he’s confident that Congress will get it done.

Then again, Daley has never held any elective office and is not known as someone who can crack the whip in Congress. Herding recalcitrant and fearful congressmen into line is precisely what our new mayor was known for. Even if Emanuel is on the telephone every day with Obama and other Washington politicos — I hear this all the time from his friends — Rahm’s influence is limited by his choice to make the Chicago City Council, not the U.S. House, his stomping — and I mean that literally — ground.

Someone has to figure out how to triangulate this mess: how to craft a plan in the middle that can bring the two sides together. Would Rahm have seen what was coming late on Friday when the two sides seemed close until Obama insisted on $400 billion more in tax increases — a concession to the progressives who cringe at cuts to core Democratic programs? Would Rahm have predicted that Republican House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), who was not returning the president’s calls, would lambaste his erstwhile golf buddy for having “moved the goalposts” and pronounce a bipartisan plan dead?

Bill Daley and some of the others close to Obama, whose reputation in the world and whose reelection chances could be affected by what happens in the seven days between today and Aug. 2, ought to be wearing brightly colored bracelets with the slogan WWRD?