House Speaker John Boehner's decision to hold a debt ceiling vote next week without insisting upon matching spending cuts marks a clear political victory for President Barack Obama who has been pushing hard for Congress to raise the limit without debate, congressional insiders say.
The House Republican leader had been insisting upon dollar-for-dollar spending cuts to pair with any debt ceiling increase earlier this month. But following a soul-searching retreat with his unruly and divided caucus, Boehner did an about face by saying he will hold a vote on a three-month extension of the debt ceiling next week. But he added he would push for ways to make Senate Democrats pass a budget, something they haven't done in years.
"Avoiding a fight, even if for three months, certainly helps the president who is going to face substantial push back from Republicans on other issues, like gun control," says one former Senate Republican aide, who adds that public opinion polling is a key factor in Boehner's change of heart.
"Boehner is recognizing that the Republican Party has been losing battles in the public eye lately," he says. "Despite Congress passing the Hurricane Sandy and fiscal cliff legislation, Republicans are being viewed as obstructionists while simultaneously dealing with infighting in the caucus."
The House GOP isn't completely backing down on their fiscal principles, as they reportedly prepare to mount a campaign for deep and specific spending cuts when lawmakers grapple with automatic, across-the-board cuts known as the 'sequester' in early March.
The Obama administration offered superficial praise to Boehner in a statement reacting to the announcement.
"The president has made clear that Congress has only two options: pay the bills they have racked up, or fail to do so and put our nation into default," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a release. "We are encouraged that there are signs that Congressional Republicans may back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts."
Boehner and Obama's inability to make a 'grand bargain' on fiscal issues, dating back to 2011, has left the American economy lurching from one potential financial crisis to the next. Stopgap measures and short-term solutions have left businesses and state and local governments awash in uncertainty.
But since winning re-election, Obama has become a much tougher negotiator and often has worked with the support of a majority of Americans on his side, from insisting upon tax increases on the wealthiest Americans to the most recent debt ceiling debate. He's also more effectively utilized his bully pulpit, spending more time speaking publicly to make his case.
What remains unclear, however, is how much Obama can turn these fiscal policy mini-victories into broader legislative wins on even more controversial issues, like gun control reforms and immigration policy. While Obama, whose approval rating is hovering around 50 percent, according to Gallup, is experiencing greater popularity than most of his first term, he still has to cope with a fiery GOP set on fighting for their principles within the divided government.