Our friend Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post reports:
Days after President Obama held a press conference re-asserting his refusal to negotiate with Republicans on raising the debt ceiling, House GOP leaders announced Friday they would move to extend the countryвЂ™s credit limit for another three months…
Democrats quickly declared victory, insisting that ObamaвЂ™s hardline stance had cowed a divided GOP into a concession that just a few weeks ago they insisted they would not make.
But as Cillizza continues, Republicans are presenting this as more of a retrenchment than a retreat:
вЂњRepublicans have to do a better job of picking our fights,вЂќ said one prominent Republican consultant. вЂњSo, we need more concern about the impact of ObamaвЂ™s reckless spending before we fight with a guy who controls the bully pulpit.вЂќ
As one senior House Republican aide explained it, putting the debt ceiling after the sequester (the series of automatic, across the board cuts that will kick in unless Congress acts to cut spending on its own) and insisting that the Senate produce a budget before April 15 or not be paid shifts the terms of the debate in a favorable way for Republicans.
No matter how you spin it, this does represent a major change from just a few weeks ago:
вЂњI donвЂ™t think going over the fiscal cliff would have been a huge deal,вЂќ [Rep. Mike Coffman] continued. вЂњTemporarily, the markets would have been aggravated until the next Congress could have passed new tax cuts and ironed things out.
вЂњBut the real big deal is whatвЂ™s upon us and going past the debt limit. I have to see a way out of this, real spending cuts, before I vote to raise the debt limit.вЂќ [Pols emphasis]
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and most House Republicans, are in the same boat, promising not to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling until they can force Obama to agree to deep spending cuts for entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.
So much for that bluster, eh? Of course, we haven’t heard from Colorado Reps. Mike Coffman and Cory Gardner to know if they’re on board with this latest maneuver at all. Part of a larger problem, as Washington Post’s Cillizza continues:
In the near term, it isnвЂ™t entirely clear that Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor can convince a majority of their GOP colleagues to vote for even a temporary increase in the debt ceiling…
[T]he death of BoehnerвЂ™s вЂњPlan BвЂќ during the fiscal cliff fight вЂ” a defeat led by tea party conservatives that guaranteed a worse bill would become law вЂ” reveals that there is a significant group within the House GOP who prize moral victories over actual victories.
The longer term risk is that the terms of the economic debate either a) donвЂ™t change much or b) move in DemocratsвЂ™ favor between now and April 15. If the economy is showing signs of real growth by that point вЂ” and it could be вЂ” the perceived leverage that Republicans believe they have could well disappear.
The whole point of this tactical retreat away from threats to not raise the debt ceiling is to show that Republicans can be, at length, constructive partners in real bipartisan solutions–or failing that, at least not grossly irresponsible rogues. The severe weakness in support for Republicans in polling directly springs from the perception that today’s GOP cares more about ideological satisfaction than effective governing, with results that have tangibly harmed the American economy.
The danger is that even though some in the GOP want to change course, to fight smarter battles in place of these damaging epic confrontations that leave Republicans squarely opposed to the overwhelming majority of voters, they may not be able to overcome the wing of their own party that is hopelessly bent on exactly that sort of confrontation.