House Republicans hinted Thursday that they might agree to a short-term extension of borrowing authority next month to move on to more promising budget battles.
The move, which Reuters reported was being considered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., seems aimed at getting President Barack Obama and the Democrats to start negotiating with them on spending cuts without the GOP being blamed for a national debt default and 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," Ryan said.
The option, if successful, would put off a fight with the president over a long-term debt ceiling increase until Republicans and the White House have negotiated their way through two other fiscal deadlines later in the spring.
It follows Obama's refusal to drawn into a negotiation over the debt ceiling. Republicans had hoped to use it as a lever to extract spending cuts from the White House.
Ryan, the party's candidate for vice president last year and a possible presidential candidate in 2016, spoke to reporters during a retreat of Republican House members in Williamsburg, Va.
The Republican approach, which has not been finalized, would effectively rearrange three looming deadlines in the long struggle between the parties over deficit reduction, Reuters reports.
The first deadlines, the exhaustion of federal borrowing capacity, will happen sometime between mid-February and early March. A failure by Congress to raise this debt ceiling could result in a market-rattling government default.
The second deadline, the delayed launch of sequestration, the automatic spending cuts that were part of the "fiscal cliff," will hit March 1. A third deadline comes March 27, when Congress must enact new funding for government agencies and programs.
"All those bring to confluence of an opportunity to drive the debate and to drive changes that get us toward long-term prosperity and get us off of this notion that we can just continue to borrow and spend," Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., told Fox News.
At their annual retreat, House members told the Washington Post there is concern about the damage done to the party’s image by the strident tone adopted by some candidates and officials.
“It’s a time for self-reflection,” one member speaking off the record told the paper. “Our identity with the American people has really, really suffered, and this is a conversation about collectively restoring a values-driven identity.”
But the consensus was that the change was about how to communicate, not about rethinking core policy positions.
“This is about tone. It’s about messaging, and it’s about showing people what we’re for instead of what we’re against,” Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell said, describing his message to fellow Republicans at a lunch-time session Thursday.