Matt Miller - The Archives
What would it take to reach a debt deal?
The Washington Post, July 13, 2011

"Breaking news" graphics play across TV screen.

Brian Williams: Good afternoon. We interrupt regular programming for this breaking news out of Washington—a remarkable turn of events in the showdown over the debt ceiling. President Obama is expected in the White House press room at any moment to announce a breakthrough deal under which Republicans have agreed to raise the debt ceiling through 2014, in exchange for Bo Obama, the president's dog, being delivered as a hostage to the Tea Party caucus of the House Republican conference. NBC's Chuck Todd is at the White House. Chuck, markets have already rallied on rumors of the deal. What can you tell us?

Chuck Todd: Brian, NBC News has learned the president struck this deal with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor late last night after concluding that John Boehner's more balanced approach to deficit reduction, which included some revenue increases, would never get enough GOP votes to stave off a default. And with the president's own party in revolt against Mitch McConnell's plan to make Democrats "own" any debt-ceiling hike through a series of high-profile votes between now and Election Day, the president decided, as one top aide told me, that there was no choice but to "go creative."

Brian Williams: And now, the president...

Obama appears at the podium. He looks grayer than ever.

Barack Obama: Good afternoon. I have a brief announcement. They say desperate times call for desperate measures, and that's sadly the situation we find ourselves in today. We know this fight about the debt ceiling has not been about the debt itself. We know this because Republicans have all voted for a budget plan that would add more than $5 trillion to the national debt in the next decade. No, this fight is about leverage, pure and simple. It's about the Republicans craving a "forcing device" at a time of divided government to gain the upper hand. Well, if Republicans insist on having leverage over me, I'm going to give it to them in a way that does the least harm to the nation. You all know how much I love Bo—he's the friend a president needs in a town like Washington. But I can't let my love for a Portuguese Water Dog outweigh the well-being of 300 million Americans—not to mention the billions around the world whose welfare would be at risk if the United States defaulted on its debt and threw the global economy into a tailspin.

The presidency is full of tragic choices. My family has always understood we might not be exempt. There's a fact sheet coming around now on the details of this debt-for-dog swap. This should all be wrapped up in a few days, and we can then get on with the important business of winning the future.

Brian Williams: Chuck Todd, a stunning development. We haven't seen a presidential dog play this kind of role in matters of state at least since Nixon's Checkers speech.

Chuck Todd: Brian, I'm told the hostage option has been under consideration for about a week. John Boehner apparently told his caucus it was beyond the pale, which further upset Tea Party members who felt Boehner's balking was further proof the House speaker had gone wobbly. Eric Cantor, meanwhile, successfully argued that holding Obama's dog could be a source of continuing leverage, something that didn't simply end when the debt limit itself was raised.

Brian Williams: We're joined now by David Gregory, host of NBC's Meet The Press. David, what are you hearing?

David Gregory: Brian, Democrats seem thrilled because for now, at least, it means Social Security and Medicare are off the table. Though some are concerned about the precedent of a Democratic president giving the GOP a member of his family, at least without securing an ironclad commitment to tax the rich in return. And for all the drama of this moment, it's not at all clear that Eric Cantor can deliver. Michele Bachmann, for example, just released a statement saying she won't even consider voting for a debt-ceiling increase unless the president hands over his mother-in-law, as well. This is shaping up to be a real test of Cantor's leadership, Brian, because, as things now stand, no debt increase, no dog.

Brian Williams: How will the sequencing here be handled? Republicans can't simply pass a clean debt-ceiling bill and count on the president to keep his word, can they?

Chuck Todd: That's exactly right, Brian. We're hearing a lot of that old Reagan adage, "Trust but verify." Right now both sides are working on details of a so-called simultaneous exchange—under which the enacted debt-ceiling bill is brought to an escrow location at which the debt/dog handoff is supervised by a mutually agreed-to third party. It sounds complicated, but aides say it's much, much easier than trying to write and pass major deficit-reduction legislation in 10 days.

Brian Williams: David, when the president said we'd have to rip the Band-Aid off and eat our peas, this wasn't what anyone had in mind, was it?

David Gregory: You know what they say, Brian. To govern is to choose.

Brian Williams: Thanks as always, gentlemen. (Touches earpiece.) Wait, this just in: Michelle Obama has apparently fled the capital with Bo in tow—in disguise! Stay with NBC for continued coverage of America's decline as a governable nation...