The ability of the president to force Republicans to separate deficit limitation from the debt limit, in Sprung's (or any other) scenario, is limited to the threat of invoking the 14th Amendment and running through the limit. Whatever the Constitutional status of that threat, I would have argued that it contained grave, serious threats to the president. Invoking the 14th now, or next week, after well-demonstrated GOP stubbornness and immanent danger, is one thing; declaring the debt limit unconstitutional by executive fiat right after a GOP landslide would have been seen by everyone except core partisans as an illegitimate overreach. Instead of constant reminders about presidents of both parties supporting increases in the debt limit, we would have been subject to constant reminders about how presidents of both parties accepted the limit, even when Congress delayed or attached stuff to it. At least that's my best guess. In my view, it would have handed the Tea Party House a huge gift: they, and not the president, would have been the reasonable ones.I'd like to think that Jon is right, and he may well be -- he certainly knows far more about the dynamics of the legislative process and public opinion than I do. But still...no President has ever engaged in substantive negotiations over the debt ceiling; why should Obama have submitted to being the first? The Constitutional option need not have been brandished early; it could have surfaced much as it did in our noncounterfactual world, floated by law professors a few weeks in advance, and only embraced by the President in the endgame. The mantra would simply have been that raising the ceiling pays for spending already approved, doing so is an obligation to maintain the full faith and credit of the United States government, and it is an inappropriate occasion for negotiating future spending.
As I believe Jon himself has noted, comprehensive bipartisan deficit reduction and tax reform bills generally require a long negotiation/gestation period. I've noted myself that Clinton struck his multi-year budget deal with the GOP in August 1997, almost two years after they first ran aground on his veto of the ominibus spending bill they put forward in October 1995. For Obama to embrace the debt ceiling as "a unique opportunity to do something big" was to make himself complicit in the hostage scenario -- to bind himself over as a hostage.
Bernstein adds that "even if the debt limit wasn't an issue, Obama and the Republicans in Congress would still be headed for the exact same showdown at the beginning of the next fiscal year this fall." He acknowledges, though, that "a government shutdown without the threat of a default would hold somewhat fewer long-term dangers." That's understating the case. A reprise of the 1995-96 shutdowns would have been an acceptable risk. Failing to raise the debt ceiling isn't.