The problem for Republicans is that the debt limit debate is too abstract for many American voters to really understand. What they see is unpleasant: noisy, squalid negotiations that seem to go on forever. So when President Obama says, just raise the debt ceiling so that government can continue to function until after, oh say, Nov 2012, many members of the public, particularly those for whom politics is not a central interest, are sympathetic: “a year and a half of peace and quiet, sounds good to me.”
Part of the reason for this sentiment is the numbers involved are incomprehensibly large. How big is a trillion anyway? - that is 1,000,000,000,000. To get to the disinterested ‘moderate’ voters, the deficit hawks must personalize the debate.
To do that, you have to make this argument: there are roughly 308 million people in the US; $1 trillion in debt translates into roughly $5,000 of debt for every man, woman and child; the $14.5 trillion federal debt translates into a debt of roughly $47,000 for every American; the federal government accumulates $1.5 trillion in debt every year; if the debt limit is raised as president Obama would like and the government continues to spend at its current rate, that means an additional $11K of debt for every person. That is money you - yes you, I’m talking to you – have to eventually pay. If you have a family with 2 kids, that means your family – your family – must pay an additional fourth-four thousand dollars over and above any debt that you have accumulated for yourselves and that the federal government has already accumulated for you.
At some point, a compromise on the dent ceiling will be reached. Who wins in that compromise depends on who wins the hearts and minds of the public. Why isn’t anybody in Washington making arguments like this?