In the parlance of Washington, the proposal by House Republicans to extend the debt ceiling another four months, which President Obama now says he will go along with, is an attempt to kick the can down the road.
It’s increasingly becoming the preferred way to deal with crises in Washington — postpone a decision. In the current stand-off, House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t get the president to go along with the agenda of House Republicans, which was to raise the debt ceiling only if the White House agreed to make spending cuts. But Obama balked at such a negotiating ploy, saying the raising of the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling, which is the government’s way of borrowing the money needed to pay for spending measures, should not be part of talks about spending cuts.
A week ago, the president indicated that he wouldn’t go along with any short-term extension of the debt ceiling, which allows the government to pay its bills without penalty.
“We shouldn’t be doing this on a one- to three-month time frame. Why would we do that? This is the United States of America,” he told reporters at a White House news conference. “What, we can’t manage our affairs in such a way that we pay our bills and we provide some certainty in terms of how we pay our bills?”
But the White House seems to have backed off from that strident position, now accepting the additional four months of breathing room Boehner’s short extension would bring. It would be the first time since World War II, according to the Washington Post, that lawmakers would have postponed the raising of the debt ceiling.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president would sign such a measure if it was passed by Congress.
“Clearly, we support extension of the debt ceiling without drama or delay.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) also said he would support it in the Senate. “I’m glad,” he told reporters, “we’re not facing crisis here in the matter of a few days.”
Last week, the Republicans gave President Obama a major victory when they agreed to his demands to raise the debt ceiling without corresponding budget cuts, a signal that House members are realizing how little public support they have for their insistence on bringing the government to the brink of default to get what they want.
That Republican announcement came after several days of a retreat in Virginia, where they discussed the state of their party, strategized on a budget plan — and heard from pollsters just how unpopular they are.
So they came up with a face-saving measure to agree to an increase in the debt limit an additional four months, on condition that the Democratic-led Senate pass a budget reduction plan by April 15. If there is no spending cut, according to the Republican plan, then members of Congress would not be paid. It is not clear if such an ultimatum is legal because of strict laws on changing congressional salaries.
Under this new proposal, the legal limit on government borrowing would remain intact, but its enforcement would be suspended until May 18. In the meantime, the Treasury could continue borrowing to cover Social Security checks, the military payroll, interest payments to the nation’s creditors and other obligations.