House Republicans signaled on Thursday they might support a short-term extension of U.S. borrowing authority next month so they can move on to budget battles that could offer them more political leverage.At least to me, this really doesn't make any sense. Yes, it would give Republicans a way to raise the debt limit without officially conceding that they were caving ... but it won't give them any leverage they don't already have, which means that in a couple months they'd be right back in the same position they are in today.
The move, described as under consideration by House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, appears to be aimed at getting President Barack Obama and his Democrats to start negotiating with them on spending cuts without Republicans being blamed for a debt default and any resulting chaos in financial markets.
"We're discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt limit extension, so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and White House involved in discussions in March," said Ryan.
Presumably, their theory is that giving the debt limit hostage a temporary stay of execution will strengthen their hand while negotiating with President Obama over the sequester and FY2013 appropriations bills, allowing them to use the debt limit as an unspoken threat. That might not be a bad idea—if nobody knew what they were doing and if it weren't obvious they will raise the debt limit. But it would be obvious what they were doing and it already is obvious that they are bluffing. (On the bluffing front, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas became the latest Republican to back off his debt limit bluster by saying that Republicans would raise the debt limit.)
For better or worse, President Obama has already made it clear that he's willing to make more spending cuts, but he has said he'll only agree to make further cuts if Republicans are willing to raise additional revenues. If Republicans want those spending cuts, they need to either agree to raise revenue or hope that the president caves on his demand for it. Either way, extending the debt limit for a couple of months won't help them achieve their goals. In fact, by once again focusing attention on their hostage-taking strategy, it probably makes it less likely. So in that sense, I'm all in favor of their dumb idea.
And, as I said above, the fact that their gambit won't enhance their leverage means that once the short-term extension expires, Republicans will find themselves right back where they find themselves today. Presumably, they'd end up doing the same thing all over again on the theory that the FY2014 spending bills were just around the corner. So a short-term extension would probably end up creating a dynamic where every few months, Republicans stage a repeat of this debt limit spectacle.
Politically, I'm actually rooting for them to do it. The only thing less popular than raising the debt limit is raising it in the way Republicans want to raise it: with cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. And if that's what they want to be known for in the run-up to the 2014 midterms, I've got two words for them: "Please proceed."