The Republicans have designed a strategic gambit to gain significant leverage in debt and deficit negotiations. In brief, the GOP will extend the debt ceiling deadline to April 15 to draw the Democrat-controlled senate into passing its first budget resolution since April 2009. If neither the senate nor the House meets the April 15 requirement, lawmakers’ salaries will be withheld until their chamber passes a budget. Furthermore, the bill strives “to ensure complete and timely payment of the obligations of the United States [g]overnment until May 19, 2013” according to the House Rules Committee. Therefore even if a budget is not passed by April 15, the Treasury will be authorized to meet its obligations, including interest payments, until May 19.
This pivot by the Republicans is a brilliant ploy to gain an upper hand in debt ceiling talks and in the court of public opinion. After 2011 was highlighted by the Tea Party’s refusal to raise the debt ceiling, the GOP has now positioned itself to force Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the Democrats to construct a budget for the next year. April 15 is only six days after the four-year anniversary of the last budget passed by the senate. The Democrats are now in a place where the blame for failed budget negotiations will fall squarely on them.
With the senate charged with creating a fiscal plan for the government, Democrats will have to gain the approval of a significant amount of the GOP coalition to reach the 60 total votes required. Simultaneously, if the plan does not pass the House, the senate will have to explain its inability to create a bipartisan budget resolution. The creation of two separate deadlines is an excellent calculation, as not meeting the April 15 date will not cause the United States to default. However, it will increase the pressure on legislators to reach a solution by withholding their salaries. Former Governor Jon Huntsman (R-Utah) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) championed this idea at their “No Labels” conference to promote cooperation across the aisle, as it is a reasonable way to push Congress to take prudent action.
Republicans have also set the stage for substantial negotiations regarding entitlement reform. With mandatory entitlement expenditures (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) comprising 56.5% of the budget, Congress is now empowered to pursue debt reduction. The senate Democrats have to now grapple with these politically difficult issues to reach a solution that can gain GOP votes in both the senate and the House. After the Republicans conceded in the fiscal cliff debate by allowing taxes to increase, the Democrats must now talk seriously about spending cuts. With the tables turned, the Republicans’ current leverage will force President Obama to make good on his promises for a bipartisan budget solution that includes spending cuts.
By employing this strategy, the GOP is placing itself in prime position to get Congress to take serious action on rate of government spending.