The House GOP seems to have extricated itself from a bind that could have damaged both the American economy and its own political future. Frustrated by Democrats' opposition, many House Republicans wanted to use the debt ceiling as leverage to force the Senate and the White House to accept deeper spending cuts. But after three days at an annual retreat, party leaders said Friday that they're willing to move the fight over spending to more appropriate times — including the looming debate over funding the federal government after March 27, when the money for most operations runs out.
That's a good decision for everyone involved. President Obama has said repeatedly that he won't negotiate over the debt limit again, arguing — correctly — that refusing to raise it is irresponsible. It's not like cutting up the federal credit card, as Republicans have suggested; it's refusing to pay the bill. If Republicans had insisted on holding the debt limit hostage to deeper cuts, they could have triggered at least a partial default that would have shaken global financial markets, raising interest rates and exacerbating Washington's budget mess. The political fallout for the GOP could also have been significant.
Rather than finding out the hard way whether the president is bluffing, House GOP leaders appear to have persuaded their members to support a bill that would effectively waive the debt limit until May 19. Their goal is to win deep spending cuts before that as part of the negotiations over two other looming legislative battles: funding government for the rest of the fiscal year and reshaping the across-the-board spending cuts due to go into effect March 1.