A fight, not a dance

The 113th Congress doesn’t have much time to settle in.

There are three looming deadlines: one to raise the debt limit (mid-February), the next to stop the $1.2 trillion spending sequester (end of February) and the last to fund the government (March 27).

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After the 2012 election, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called for congressional comity, saying, “I know how to fight. I know how to dance. I don’t dance as well as I fight, but I’d much rather dance any time.”

The fiscal-cliff debate ended up being a brawl, with Congress again kicking the can down the road on entitlement reform, Medicare payments to physicians and cuts to the Pentagon.

Congress could strike a sweeping deal that simultaneously deals with this trio of policy dilemmas. But there is not much optimism at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

President Obama said he will not negotiate on the debt limit, and the GOP scoffs at passing an increase without some measure of offsetting spending cuts.

Someone will have to blink. Many pundits believe the wounded GOP will cave, but there is a noticeable contrast between how Republican leaders in Congress handled the fiscal showdowns of 2011 and how they are dealing with them now.

Two years ago, both Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) downplayed any chance of the U.S. defaulting or the government shutting down.

McConnell in 2011 said a default would “destroy” the GOP brand. Boehner said it would be a “financial disaster, not only for our economy, but for the worldwide economy.”

But appearing recently on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McConnell would not rule out a government shutdown.

In a Jan. 3 op-ed, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), McConnell’s deputy, wrote, “It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well-being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain. President Obama needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan to avoid it immediately.”

Democrats have also changed their tune. Reid, who had previously said Obama should not invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the debt limit, last week signed a letter seeking to give Obama cover to do so.

Over the weekend, Reid explained that he is not “advocating for the 14th Amendment.” He added that Obama “should take a real hard look at any opportunity that’s available, that’s constitutional.”

It looks like he is at a fight rather than a dance.