While the fight over the government’s borrowing limit is now likely to be put off until May, Obama and the Congress still face two upcoming fiscal deadlines that could test this unwillingness for 11th-hour White House negotiations. Tough new spending cuts — about $85 billion from this year’s budget — are scheduled to kick in on March 1. On March 27, the government faces a potential shutdown if Congress doesn’t extend a temporary budget measure.
But at the White House and in Congress, both are seen as far less cataclysmic than failure to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. And Republican lawmakers who once shuddered at the idea of massive cuts, especially to defense programs, now see the automatic reductions on March 1 as the only recourse to reduce spending.
“It’s the bird in hand when it comes to cuts,” said Sen. John Cornyn, the second ranking Republican leader in the Senate.
More unclear is how Republicans intend to deal with the debt ceiling in May, when Congress again will have to act to raise it or extend it.
The White House is no more enthusiastic for last-minute deal making than Republicans are. Fiscal negotiations have been time consuming events that have left Obama with little time to pursue other aspects of his agenda.
If freed from such talks, he can now push his proposals for overhauling immigration laws and combating gun violence.
“Going regular order slows things down and takes the president out of a central role but it’s still an influential one if he wants it,” said Patrick Griffin, White House legislative director under President Bill Clinton. “The more it looks like he’s winning, the better the next battle goes for him.”
What’s more, White House officials say, Obama’s negotiating stance is now well known after he made a public offer to Boehner in December that Boehner turned down. That offer, White House officials say, still stands: Lower cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients and other beneficiaries of government programs, $400 billion in reduced spending in Medicare and other health care programs over 10 years, and $600-$700 billion in tax revenue from closing loopholes and deductions by rewriting the tax code.
In a memorandum to her colleagues, the new Senate Budget Committee chair, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., emphasized that “we could raise hundreds of billions of dollars by making sure the rich no longer benefit disproportionately from deductions and other tax preferences.” The letter did not specify an amount of revenue. Republicans say any new tax revenue is out of the question.
In 2014, there are 35 Senate seats up for election, 21 held by Democrats. Republicans see that as an opportunity to pick up some seats and they see a clash over taxes as a winning proposition, especially in states Obama lost.
Moreover, a Democratic budget will test whether Democrats will embrace the Medicare cuts and Social Security changes that Obama proposed privately in previous unsuccessful talks with Republicans.
“The president hasn’t offered any of those kinds of plans in public,” Ryan said Sunday on Meet the Press. “They try to do back room deals, but those always seem to fall apart. We want to have a debate in public so we can contrast these visions.”
Associated Press White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this article.