According to Jon Ward, conservative strategists have expressed worry over the game of chicken that House Republicans want to play with the debt limit. I’m not at all convinced that House Republicans actually want to play that game of chicken. This sounds much more credible.

“The Republicans are looking at this as just another opening to force the president’s hand, to hold everything hostage again,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who predicted many House Democrats would buck Obama and vote against raising the debt ceiling if the bill had too many GOP cuts attached.

“The White House shouldn’t cave, and the Republicans shouldn’t count on that. The White House needs to be tough on this one,” he added.

Republicans probably are counting on Democrats to save them from the worst-case scenario. But let’s not overlook what we already know – Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has maintained, and nobody has denied, that Republicans personally assured the President that they would raise the debt limit. The rest of this is just play-acting. The fact that the Obama fiscal policy speech included a trigger similar to what Republicans are proposing as a budget process reform to reduce spending gives the game away here. The White House can say they got the increase in the debt limit they wanted, the Republicans can say they got the budget reform they wanted, but both will generally be moving along the same plane to the same goal.

Peter Orszag says in the Politico piece, “The most likely outcome is a series of targets backed up by a trigger.” I don’t see much of a reason to doubt that. There’s certainly a way to avoid that, by simply demanding a clean bill and letting the business community do all the work of pressuring Republicans. The National Association of Manufacturers has officially registered as a lobbyist on the debt limit, among other groups with a lot of sway with Republicans. The “my offer is this, nothing” strategy could work. But I don’t know why anyone would think that the White House particularly wants to explore that strategy.