By Chris Cillizza
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 country’s credit limit for another three months.
Democrats quickly declared victory, insisting that Obama’s hardline stance had cowed a divided GOP into a concession that just a few weeks ago they insisted they would not make.
But in conversations this afternoon with the Fix, Republican party strategists insisted that pushing the debt ceiling fight back to mid-April was a strategic gambit designed to maximize their leverage on several major budgetary fights between now and then.
“Republicans have to do a better job of picking our fights,” said one prominent Republican consultant. “So, we need more concern about the impact of Obama’s reckless spending before we fight with a guy who controls the bully pulpit.”
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.
“In the fiscal cliff fight, the president had greater leverage because current law was on his side,” said the aide, noting that if nothing was done on the cliff taxes would have gone up on all Americans. By contrast, the aide added, “in the sequestration fight, we have greater leverage because current law is on our side” — meaning that if Congress fails to act the automatic spending cuts kick in.
It’s an interesting — and smart — gambit by House Republicans who have done very little interesting or smart in terms of political strategy of late.