In a remarkable development, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have abandoned their threats to bring the nation to the brink of default over extending the debt ceiling.
The Republicans, led by House Budget Committee chair and GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, will now extend the debt limit by three months.
That means the fiscal battle will focus on automatic spending cuts, which must be completed by March 1st, and avoiding a government shutdown by either extending a continuing budget resolution or actually passing a new budget by the end of March.
The New York Times described how the senior Republican House leadership laid the groundwork for getting their caucus on board.
Surely some hard-core Tea Party members like Loonie Louie Gohmert of Texas won’t fall in line, but most will, especially since the leadership threw in some red meat—they propose that Senators and members of Congress not get paid if they don’t pass a budget this year.
That idea, of course, is dead in the water, but the proposal as a whole tries to extricate Republicans from a very dicey situation in which they would get most of the blame if the nation had to default on its debt.
It’s also, as The Times wrote, a victory for President Obama, and I think a big one.
By stating over and over again in the bluntest language that he would not negotiate with Republicans on extending the debt ceiling and by threatening to go to the American, he persuaded them he would not give ground. That took the 2011 scenario of “hostage taking” off the table.
Ironically the president’s entire feisty persona since his re-election appears to have made these kinds of showdowns less likely because Republicans know he means it. That gives him a lot more leverage than the pleading, weak commander in chief of the first term. The president’s progressive critics were right—he wasn’t tough enough then, maybe because now he’s got nothing to lose.
But I think it gives the Republicans some leverage, too. They can now justifiably claim to have made a reasonable compromise with the Democrats to avert the fiscal cliff on New Year’s and to have responsibly extended the debt limit.
But now it’s time to put real spending cuts, including entitlement programs like Medicare, on the table. And it’s time for the president to stop hiding behind Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s skirts and, along with Senate Democrats, introduce a real budget for the first time in four years.
(On Sunday, the third most powerful Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, said the Senate will pass a budget this year.)
Sen. Reid has avoided doing that to keep Senate Democrats from stating their priorities too explicitly and protect them from taking tough votes.
But now House Republicans (and Senators) already have taken some tough votes of their own. It’s the Democrats’ turn to do the same.