Paul Ryan: We're considering a short-term debt-ceiling extension

Time to regroup?

“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 the White House involved in discussions in March,” Ryan, R-Wis., revealed during an off-camera discussion with reporters tracking the retreat. “What we want to achieve at the end of the day is a two-way discussion between Democrats and Republicans and, out of that, hopefully, some progress being made on getting this deficit and debt under control – because we really do believe that our obligation is to help prevent a debt crisis from hitting this country.”

Ryan declined to detail the terms of a possible short-term extension, but said that given “the realities of divided government” challenging lawmakers, he hopes Republicans “achieve consensus on a plan to proceed so that we can make progress on controlling spending and deficits and debt.

“Our goal is to make sure that our members understand all of the deadlines that are coming, all the consequences of those deadlines that are coming, in order so that we can make a better-informed decision about how to move and how to proceed,” said Ryan, who was easily reelected to another term in the House.

Unless this is a simple ploy to buy time, because the caucus is so divided over what to demand as a price of raising the ceiling, I don’t see the point. The bit about approaching deadlines is clear enough — the debt-ceiling deadline could hit as early as next month, then the sequester takes effect in early March, then the current continuing resolution for federal spending expires in late March. Rather than have the big debt-ceiling fight in February and have to deal with the other crap a month later, they could postpone it for a few weeks and try to resolve all three issues together. But they could also resolve all three issues next month too. If they’re asking for extra time, it’s only because they’re not ready to formulate their “ask.” Or, maybe, Ryan’s thinking that by tying the debt ceiling to the continuing resolution, they can put extra pressure on Obama and Reid to finally finally finally propose a budget of their own. Byron York mentioned that as a possibility last week; one of the GOP’s biggest problems in the battle for public opinion on spending is finding a way to make gutless Democrats articulate their own unworkable plans for long-term solvency. It’s easy for Obama to reject Republican demands on spending as a condition for raising the debt ceiling as being “too draconian” or whatever but not so easy if the big GOP demand is simply asking Democrats to offer a plan of their own for sustainability. Case in point: Via Guy Benson, watch below as Jay Carney ducks a simple question at today’s briefing about how much higher Obama wants the debt ceiling raised. These people are deathly allergic to real accountability for their spending. Even their communications liaisons cease to function when they’re confronted on it.

In fact, read Keith Hennessey’s proposal for debt-ceiling negotiations at the Journal today. Not only is he okay with a short-term ceiling hike, he’s okay with multiple short-term ceiling hikes — provided that Obama is forced to ask for them repeatedly and that they pass the House with exclusively Democratic support, with House Republicans voting present. You’re not going to get major cuts during a second term of Hopenchange but there are things you can do to increase Democratic accountability and that’s one of them. I’d even double down on Hennessey’s idea by offering O a three-month debt ceiling hike any time he wants one provided that he makes the request publicly, in some sort of televised format, each and every time. If he and the left want to let the country burn, okay, but they have to let the public know who’s holding the matches.