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WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Republicans came here to begin forming a strategy for the series of upcoming spending battles and ended up finding one before their retreat was even over.
The fine print is still being drafted, but the GOP now feels it has some forward momentum after a brutal holiday stretch of failed negotiating ploys and infighting.
Despite a new feeling of unity, Republican demands for raising the debt ceiling have been scaled back after a concerted push by several leading lawmakers, such as Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, to inject a sense of reality into what the rank and file could reasonably hope to accomplish as they battle a Democratic president and Senate over the next two years.
So they settled on a plan they hope will put the focus of the fiscal debates back on Democrats. Republicans want to give the Senate three months to pass a budget, something the chamber has not done in years, or face their paychecks being withheld after that deadline.
Importantly, the new strategy had the backing of a working group, led by Ryan, of influential conservative Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Tom Price of Georgia, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Those lawmakers blessed the plan in a private meeting with Speaker John A. Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy on the morning of Jan. 18, prompting questions about whether the working group will remain a center of power in future strategic decisions by Boehner.
Sweetening the pot for the right were two promises by GOP leaders, according to a statement of support for the plan released jointly by Hensarling, Price, Jordan and Scalise.
First, they agreed to keep discretionary spending at the same top-line level it would be at under the automatic sequestration cuts that are set to go into effect in two months. Under that agreement, the only replacement for the sequester would be other spending cuts of the same amount.
Second, leaders agreed to “work to put the country on the path to a balanced budget in 10 years,” something that conservative outside groups have been clamoring for.
Republicans are hoping a short-term debt limit increase will allow them to make incremental progress on spending while slowing President Barack Obama’s agenda and framing the debate in their favor.