At the time, this seemed, at least to me, like a plausible defense. Obama wanted an extension of unemployment benefits and to prevent a middle-class tax increase. With an imposing deadline, Republicans wouldn't budge on either point, so the White House struck a deal. These were "unique circumstances."
Except, the circumstances may not have been unique at all. We saw a situation in which Republicans were prepared to shut down the government, forcing the president to strike a deal he didn't want to make. We see Republicans poised to create a global crisis by blocking a debt-ceiling increase, pushing the president again into a situation where he may have to strike another deal. We see the next fiscal year's budget fight coming down the pike, and another shutdown threat.
The pattern is hard to miss -- a broad threat emerges, Republicans exploit through a hostage strategy, and the president, playing the role of responsible grown-up, takes steps to protect those who'd be "directly and immediately damaged."
Matt Yglesias has a good idea about how to approach the upcoming Armageddon over raising the debt ceiling:
It’s a two pronged strategy. The first one is a credible, repeated commitment not to surrender anything in exchange for getting congress to agree to the debt ceiling being increased. After all, why should anything be given up. Everyone knows that increasing the debt ceiling is the right thing to do. If the government were operating under uniform Republican control, the GOP would be increasing the debt ceiling. There’s nothing to bargain over. If some members of congress genuinely think that no increase in the debt ceiling is a superior options to raising it, then they’re entitled to be wrong. But there’s no reason that Obama should be trading votes with guys like John Boehner who know perfectly well that an increase is in order. This frames the issue correctly as one of whether or not Republicans who think an increase is warranted will nonetheless refuse to allow one in order to extract unrelated concessions.
The second prong, important for credibility, is to move to thinking about what happens as we reach the ceiling.