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Congress: The debt-ceiling leverage

“Much of the rhetoric to date over the fiscal cliff has been on taxes, but lawmakers on Wednesday finally began to zero in on what might be the most difficult piece of the budget puzzle: raising the debt ceiling,” Roll Call says. Republicans don’t want to raise it, and see it as their best leverage. “With the uptick in GOP messaging, Democrats are more concerned than ever about repeating their mistakes from the last lame duck in 2010, when they underestimated the GOP resolve to demand spending cuts equal to the amount of the debt limit hike. It seems unlikely Democrats would be willing to trade on tax rates to secure an extension of the debt ceiling. But in one scenario Republicans have floated, they could gain leverage over Democrats if the GOP were to suddenly relent in the fight over the top tax rates and pass a bill to extending middle-class tax rates.”

“President Obama and congressional Republicans on Wednesday ratcheted up their threats on an increase in the debt ceiling, complicating fiscal-cliff negotiations that had already stalled over taxes,” The Hill writes.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer thinks Republicans would be unwise in going all-in on another debt-ceiling fight. "I think they learned their lesson with the debt ceiling, I don’t think it’s leverage for them at all,” he said, per The Hill. “The whole thing turned around when it looked like they’d be willing to let the United States forgo its payment of debt in 2011. The whole thing turned around and we began to get the upper hand. I think they’ve learned that mistake and any talk that that is leverage for them is false.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid blocked an attempt by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to force a vote on President Obama’s deficit-reduction plan, which was introduced as an amendment to a Russian trade bill.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) became the latest Republican to signal that he could support raising rates: “I, at this point, am not going to sign the discharge petition,” The Hill reports. “I said 'at this point.' I don't know what next week will bring. What would change my mind,” he added, “would be to see if there is any forward movement in the discussions regarding the White House and the House leadership. I would seriously consider what options do I have at that point.”

“Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked Republicans from bringing up an immigration bill offering permanent residence visas for foreigners with advanced degrees that passed the House last week despite the opposition of most Democrats,” the AP writes, adding, “Schumer said Democrats support creating so-called STEM visas and he has a proposal to do that. ‘But what we don’t do is take away other visas or add in other extraneous positions.’”

More: “The STEM bill is seen as an opening skirmish as Congress and the White House plan for writing comprehensive immigration legislation next year dealing with both legal immigrants and the estimated 11 million living in the country illegally.”

“Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is working to build a firewall in the House against new campaign finance reforms in the face of possible defections within his own caucus,” The Hill reports. “McConnell met with the House Republican Study Committee last week to warn conservatives in the lower chamber not to sign on to any bipartisan initiative requiring super-PACs to disclose their donors.”

Joe Lieberman says he was too mean to Obama.