WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama was officially sworn in to his second term Sunday -- the Monday celebration is a re-enactment -- and after the festivities are over, his second term starts where the first term ended: With Republicans trying to leverage the looming debt ceiling to their advantage.
On Friday, House Republicans offered to lift the debt ceiling for three months but the deal had a few catches: Senate Democrats had to pass a budget and if they did not, lawmakers in both chambers would not be paid.
Democrats control the Senate and they have not approved a budget in four years.
Or as Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) dramatically put it in the GOP Saturday address, it's been 1,361 days without a Senate budget to be exact. The GOP controls the House -- where budgets have been passed the past two years -- but only on the strength of GOP votes, so the spending plan had no chance in the Senate.
Moreover, the seemingly gracious GOP gesture to delay another fight over spending and possibly avert a fiscal crisis right away also conveniently kicks the can down the road to a time where Republicans hope to have even more advantage.
In a few weeks, Obama is supposed to propose a new budget. Added to that: the New Year's Eve deal that avoided the fiscal cliff left a lot of unfinished business, putting off for two months $1.2 trillion across-the-board automatic spending cuts (sometimes called the "sequester") unless Congress and Obama act.
Obama has been pushing very hard for a long-term lifting of the debt ceiling -- or in the alternative, stripping Congress of the chore. Republicans declined both offers.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday, "I think the president made clear the other day that he would happily take on the responsibility himself if Congress can't handle it. So the fact is, Congress should simply extend the debt ceiling, and do so in a manner that causes no concern to the economy and to global markets, that does not in any way suggest that Washington is about to engage in another process that results in a self-inflicted wound to the economy."
The debt limit could be reached as early as late February or early March. A three-month reprieve gives Obama breathing room to move on to other issues -- most centrally prodding Congress on gun violence and immigration, major second-term agenda items.
"With the swearing-in of a new Congress and the inauguration of President Obama, this is an opportunity for a fresh start," Lankford said.
"But because government debt really does affect all of us, Republicans will NOT simply provide a blank check for uncontrolled spending, irrational borrowing and constant nickel and dime tax increases."
The GOP-run House could vote on the three-month plan this week. Their aim to gain an upper hand by switching around the time table tells us this: Republicans believe they do better with the public hardlining spending and budget issues than with messing with worldwide financial markets over the debt ceiling.