If Democrats agree to pass the short-term debt ceiling hike with the budget requirement attached, it would force the party to lay out its spending priorities with less than two years until a half-dozen red-state Democrats face reelection. If they don’t, Republicans will paint them as irresponsible stewards of the public’s dollars. Such a measure also would satisfy conservative Republicans pushing for big spending cuts.

But practically, Republicans think they have more leverage if they reserve their firepower for fights over government funding and the sequester.

Here’s why: Top GOP aides say the spending battles — which will sprout in February and March — give them the leverage Obama enjoyed in the debate over the Bush tax hikes at the end of 2012.

Just like the tax hikes would have automatically taken hold on Jan. 1 without the fiscal cliff deal, steep automatic spending reductions will take hold on March 2 unless Congress acts. So when Boehner eventually negotiates with Obama over government funding and the sequester — which the GOP hopes will be paired in one fight — the GOP thinks Obama will want to protect the Pentagon by replacing the spending cuts with more targeted reductions. The goal of the Republican leadership is to convince Obama to enact some entitlement reform as part of those cuts.

Furthermore, if the sequester kicks in, Boehner will legitimately be able to tell conservatives that government funding has been slashed to the low levels supported by the conservative Republican Study Committee.

Then, in April, Republicans think they will be in a better position to fight on the debt ceiling once again.