Holding the debt limit hostage to much bigger spending cuts that Obama might be unwilling to accept is part and parcel of the kind of strategic maneuvering that leads to legislative compromise. And the only strategy this White House understands.
Republican leaders threatened to let all of the 2001 to 2003 Bush tax cuts expire rather than see them raised on higher-income brackets, investors and other growth sectors of the economy. Obama, whose 2012 prospects are threatened by an anemic economy, caved and the GOP got what it wanted.
In the same way, conservative firebrands are threatening to vote against raising the debt limit if muscular spending cuts are not a part of the package.
And Republicans certainly have the votes to do so in the House, and the roll call could be close the Senate. In a showdown vote in 2006, not a single Democrat voted to raise the debt limit, with Bush winning on a party-line vote of 52 to 48.
One of the Democrats voting no was a young freshman senator by the name of Barack Obama, who said at the time that "raising the debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. Leadership means that 'the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren."
He's singing a different tune now.
The United States, whose bonds and Treasury bills are the safest investments in the world, has never defaulted on its debts and it is not going to do so this time -- not in a $15 trillion economy with nearly $3 trillion poring into the government's tax coffers each year.
But Republicans were sent here to cut spending and begin putting Obama's $1.3 trillion budget deficit and the national debt on a steep downward trajectory.
They are planning to do just that in several ways, beginning with budget cuts in the remaining eight months of this fiscal year, and in their appropriations bills for fiscal 2012. With Democrats in control of the Senate and Obama's veto pen, it's not going to be quick, it is not going to be easy, and it won't be pretty.
But the long-delayed battle to control the growth of government has begun, along with the possibly game-changing 2012 presidential and congressional election cycle. The nation's beleaguered voters are waiting and watching to see if Washington carries out their demands.