There’s so much fake drama in Washington that it gets hard to recognize big developments when they actually happen. By any measure, though, Republican leaders are offering a massive reversal to their debt threats.

Senator McConnell’s proposal gives Obama everything on substance, in return for concessions on optics. 

In essence, under the plan, the debt ceiling gets raised without spending cuts, but the vote is structured so it looks like Obama is pulling the lever alone. And then he has to pull it again in several, politically risky increases. For Republicans, as The Nation’s George Zornick reports, “it’s a stunning de-leveraging” of their hard-fought position. “After spending much of 2011 threatening to execute the economy unless they get their way,” Zornick explains, “McConnell is now proposing to just release the hostage [without] one scrap of policy concessions from Democrats.”

The deal looks like a big win for progressives—never a conventional narrative in Washington, so it probably won’t be covered that way—and some liberals argue it casts Obama’s negotiating in a very different light. Lawrence O’Donnell, who held a senior staff position in the Senate long before his fame as a liberal anchor, proposes that Obama was never really threatening Medicare, he was ratcheting up pressure on a GOP caucus that could not stomach any revenue increases at all.

“Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to [in these marathon legislative bargaining sessions],” O’Donnell stresses, and thus many observers (and progressive critics) misread Obama’s true position.  Political junkies are fairly tired of the “three-dimensional chess” defense of every Obama move, but this time the theory makes some sense. O’Donnell’s ten-minute presentation is also one of the clearest explanations of the default showdown available, so it’s worth watching for that reason alone: 

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