Pres­i­dent Obama speaks to the nation on the evening of July 25

Pres­i­dent Obama (or his Press Sec­re­tary, any­way) announced yes­ter­day that the 14th Amend­ment Rem­edy to the debt ceil­ing stand­off is “not avail­able” to use.

So where does that leave us? Let’s look at the play­ers, and then we can talk about pos­si­ble next steps.

House Speaker John Boehner

Speaker Boehner responds to Obama's speechBoehner has the Ohio Two-​​Step, which raises the debt ceil­ing by $1 tril­lion, cuts spend­ing by $1.2 tril­lion, and sets up a Con­gres­sional com­mis­sion to come up with an addi­tional $1.8 tril­lion in cuts by the end of Novem­ber. The tacit part of the Ohio Two-​​Step is a reopened debate over the debt ceil­ing in Novem­ber as well, since the debt ceil­ing increase would run out at that time.

The Tea Party and other across-​​the-​​board oppo­nents of increas­ing the debt ceil­ing have already made clear their oppo­si­tion to the plan. Unsur­pris­ingly, so have the Democ­rats. With­out either most Tea Partiers or some Democ­rats (or some extremely unlikely com­bi­na­tion of the two), the bill can­not pass the House.

Sen­ate Major­ity Leader Harry Reid

Reid’s plan has $2.7 tril­lion in spend­ing cuts, with no tax increases. In case any­one has for­got­ten (it’s sure not evi­dent in this plan), Reid is a Demo­c­rat. And the bill even got Obama’s endorse­ment. So why isn’t this a shoo-​​in?

First of all, in case any­one has for­got­ten, Reid is a Demo­c­rat. And the bill even got Obama’s endorse­ment. Those two rea­sons alone guar­an­tee near-​​unanimous oppo­si­tion by Repub­li­cans in the House. But then there’s the other reason…it raises the debt ceil­ing by enough to pre­vent this issue from recur­ring before the 2012 elec­tion. That makes it a non-​​starter with Repub­li­cans, who wish to have it front and cen­ter in the polit­i­cal sphere in the sum­mer of 2012.

Besides the obvi­ous rea­son that Repub­li­cans believe it ben­e­fits them polit­i­cally to have the debt ceil­ing as the main issue this time next year, they rec­og­nize that it has the added bonus of dis­tract­ing Obama from the cam­paign trail if he’s sim­ply try­ing to keep the lights on. Or he can focus on cam­paign­ing while Repub­li­cans force a default, and blud­geon Obama for cam­paign­ing dis­tract­ing him from such an impor­tant issue.

Aside from Michele Bach­mann (R-​​MN), none of the lead­ing Repub­li­can can­di­dates for Pres­i­dent have any par­tic­u­lar involve­ment in the debt ceil­ing debate, so this gives a time advan­tage to them. As an added bonus, what­ever Obama does, they can cam­paign on the oppo­site posi­tion, with­out hav­ing to vote on any­thing that might come back to bite them later.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama

Obama has been play­ing the grownup in the room on TV, but he’s been rel­a­tively light on specifics. In many ways, this is a sen­si­ble approach for him to take. Any­thing he pro­poses is instantly opposed by House Repub­li­cans, regard­less of the con­tent. So why make pro­pos­als, when the very act of mak­ing them removes them from the realm of House passage?

It’s unclear to me whether deny­ing the 14th Amend­ment Rem­edy is a head fake. Cer­tainly, had he made it clear that he was will­ing to use that out, House Repub­li­cans would have cover for tak­ing no action and then blam­ing the resul­tant debt increase on the Pres­i­dent. Tak­ing the Con­sti­tu­tional Option off the table puts the onus back on the House. But it’s hard to tell if he’d really allow the default to happen.

The Tea Party

For the moment, the Tea Party has an out­sized influ­ence over the process. Col­lec­tively, they have taken the stance that they will not allow the debt ceil­ing to be raised under any cir­cum­stances. Many of them con­sider reper­cus­sions of a debt default to be as out­landish as global warm­ing or evo­lu­tion, all of which were cre­ated by left­ist Com­mu­nists whose sole desire is to enslave human­ity. As such, refus­ing to increase the debt ceil­ing is doing a great ser­vice to humanity.

What Next?

There are some inter­est­ing out­comes that could arise. My favorite is an alliance between House Repub­li­cans and House Democ­rats. Given the chasm in DW-​​NOMINATE scores between the most con­ser­v­a­tive Demo­c­rat and the most lib­eral Repub­li­can, I’m unsure if this is real­is­tic, though. On the other hand, take a look at the dis­tri­b­u­tions of the 111th and 112th House members.

Note how there is a sig­nif­i­cant peak at about +0.3. That is closer to many Democ­rats than it is to that Tea Party mode around +0.9. Per­haps the larger group of Democ­rats in the –0.2 “shelf” could help get past the Tea Party impasse.

If that were to hap­pen, though, I’d expect that to be the final straw for the Tea Party, which would attempt to replace all exist­ing Repub­li­cans with DW-​​NOMINATE can­di­dates around +0.9. That would almost cer­tainly fail, and the party would for­mally splinter.

But I’m dream­ing, mostly.

Another pos­si­ble out­come would be a fail­ure to raise the debt ceil­ing, cre­at­ing a de-​​facto gov­ern­ment shut­down à la 1995. Could Obama come out a win­ner in this one, as Bill Clin­ton did in 1995? Per­haps, but it’s hardly a given.

Or Obama could uni­lat­er­ally raise the ceil­ing, using the 14th Amend­ment Rem­edy, and dare the Supreme Court to deny him that right. The House would prob­a­bly at least attempt to impeach him, but it’s almost cer­tain that the Sen­ate wouldn’t con­vict. So it would be yet another repeat of a Clin­ton saga. This one, how­ever, could cost him reëlec­tion, if the vot­ers believe he made the wrong choice.

None of the avail­able options cre­ate any real win­ners. The only ques­tion before us is who loses the most. This makes the whole affair a sad chap­ter in Amer­i­can history.

So what path do you think is most likely? What path do you think is the best option? Did I miss a pos­si­ble outcome?