It was a political high-wire act, but House Speaker John A. Boehner pulled it off without a hitch. In one political masterstroke, he reunited his rebellious Republican forces behind his budget plan, and he divided the Democrats.
When the smoke cleared in the latest budgetary skirmish Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has dictatorially rejected the House-passed budgets, agreed to accept the GOP’s limited debt ceiling extension, and the White House said President Obama would sign it.
Mr. Boehner effectively succeeded in keeping the federal debt ceiling extension on a tight leash at least until May 19, making the White House and the Democrats buy into a short-term extension deal they said they could never accept.
An army of conservative organizations was demanding that House Republicans refuse any action on the debt ceiling until a full budget plan is passed. Mr. Boehner and his deputies took a different course, however, that temporarily defused the debt ceiling bomb without giving any ground for the long term.
In short, they withheld their support for raising the debt limit, while forcing Senate Democrats to agree to do what they have long refused to do: send a budget to the House to begin the legislative process of reducing the deficit and the debt.
“The premise here is pretty simple,” the speaker said in Wednesday’s House debate. “It says that there should be no long-term increase in the debt limit until there’s a long-term plan to deal with the fiscal crisis that faces our country.”
Support from House Republicans was overwhelming — passing on a vote of 285 to 144, with the help of some Democrats. Only 33 Republicans voted no.
It may be of dubious constitutionality, but it reinforced the GOP’s hardball message to the president and his allies in the Senate: You may have won re-election to a second term with a little more than 50 percent of the popular vote, but the American people voted to keep the House in GOP hands by a decisive margin. Deal with it.
Meantime, while House Republicans waited for Senate Democrats to act on their budget-cutting blueprint, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan served notice that he is preparing a tougher budget-cutting plan on top of the spending cuts previously agreed to.
“We are not going to lose the $1.2 trillion we’ve already got from the last debt-ceiling [battle]. We are going to have to negotiate on top of that for a new debt-ceiling increase,” Mr. Ryan told reporters at a Wall Street Journal breakfast.