Analysts on What's Next for House Republicans

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - January 23, 2013

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GWEN IFILL: On Monday, the president laid out his agenda for his second term in office. Today, House Republicans took their first step to position themselves for a series of upcoming fiscal battles.

MAN: The gentleman is recognized.

GWEN IFILL: On the House floor today, Speaker John Boehner called the Republican bill pretty simple.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: 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.

GWEN IFILL: Today, the House opted for short-term, temporarily lifting the debt ceiling until May 19, then resetting the cap to cover any borrowing over the current limit, $16.4 trillion. And for now, Republicans will not force immediate spending cuts.

The party's new strategy would achieve that goal by forcing Congress to pass a budget.

House Budget Committee chair and last year's vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan:

REP. PAUL RYAN, R- Wis.: And here's the point. We have a law. It's called the Budget Act. It requires that Congress passes a budget by April 15. All we're saying is, Congress, follow the law, do your work, budget. And the reason for this extension is so that we can have the debate we need to have.

GWEN IFILL: As added incentive, the House bill says, if there is no budget, lawmakers won't get paid. After it passed today by a bipartisan vote of 285-144, Speaker Boehner said he's optimistic that will happen.

JOHN BOEHNER: If both chambers have a budget, Democrat budget from the Senate, Republican from the House, now you have got competing visions for how we address this problem. Out of those competing visions, we're going to find some common ground.

GWEN IFILL: But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said linking the budget to congressional pay was a ploy, and 111 House Democrats ended up opposing it.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif.: This linkage is a gimmick. It is a joke. It's not right. It's designed to put people on the spot and say, either you get -- you don't get paid, and in order to get paid, in order for member of Congress to get paid, you must cut benefits for seniors, and their Medicare guarantee, Medicaid and the rest.

GWEN IFILL: Ultimately, the House Republican measure is aimed at the Democratic-controlled Senate, which hasn't debated a budget since 2009. But, unlike Pelosi, Senate Democrats said they would support the House bill, which they claimed as a victory.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: President Obama has consistently said he'd refuse to negotiate around the debt ceiling. His strategy is vindicated now that the Republicans have backed off their threats to take the nation into a default. The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked.

GWEN IFILL: Congress still faces other fiscal fights. Automatic spending cuts are due to kick in on March 1, and funding for the government runs out March 27.

So, can the Republican Party use fiscal issues to regain its footing?

For more on the political fights ahead, we turn to Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, and Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report and Roll Call.

So, as Chuck Schumer just said, the Republicans blinked. Did they blink, Susan, and does it matter if they did?

SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: I think a big recalibration on their part.

 They really find themselves on the defensive on -- on the defensive when it comes to this debt ceiling issue. And they -- remember how they vowed they would only raise the debt ceiling by a dollar for every dollar that was cut in spending?

Well, now they say, never mind on that. Let's push that down the road to May. And the big fight will not be on the debt ceiling. It will be on these sweeping spending cuts that go into effect on March 1 and on the government funding that runs out on March 27. March is going to be the month to watch, and it's a month that could end in a government shutdown.

GWEN IFILL: But is it the kind of fight the Republicans want to have to redefine themselves, Stuart?

STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg Political Report: I think they do.

Gwen, I think you have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. And, yes, the Republicans folded on this wisely. Finally, they -- I think they got some smarts on this. You have to pick your fights. They need a breather now. They have been on the defense for a year on tax cuts for millionaires, on toughness, shutting down the government, they're not going to compromise.

They need to recalibrate here, a reset button that we see being pushed in -- it seems like in every aspect of government and fight on future spending, not on obligations already incurred.

GWEN IFILL: So, in the inaugural address this year -- this week, we saw the president lay out his goals for what he wants the next four years or the next year or so at least to be. What is the Republican counter to that?

SUSAN PAGE: I think the Republicans have recalibrated their tactics, but not their end goals. They're as fervently in favor of cutting spending without new revenues as they were.

We were both at a breakfast with Paul Ryan this morning where he said no new revenues. The president has gotten all the revenues he's going to behavior. And they have in fact doubled down on spending cuts. They now say they will have a plan that balances the federal budget within 10 years. You can only do that without revenues if you have really devastating cuts on all kinds of domestic programs. And we will see if they're willing to deliver on that.

GWEN IFILL: Both one Democrat today and Republican Paul Ryan used the same term today about what's happening, which is, they're buying time.

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