GOP looks to fight Dems, not negotiate with Obama

WASHINGTON (AP) — Is Washington's backroom dealing dead?

House Speaker John Boehner says he no longer

wants to negotiate deficit reduction with President Barack Obama. The

president

says he won't negotiate raising the government's borrowing

authority. Rank and file lawmakers say they're tired of being left

out of the loop and insist on the regular legislative process.

If those are New Year's resolutions, they can certainly be broken. But at the start of a second presidential term, cutting

a secret, late night fiscal bargain with the White House on the phone and with a handshake suddenly seems so yesterday.

"No more brinkmanship," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell declared. "No more last-minute deals."

What's in, for the moment at least, is a more deliberative legislative process. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan,

last year's Republican vice presidential nominee, says it's all about "prudence."

For the nation, that could mean less

manufactured drama like the New Year's deal that averted the

once-dreaded "fiscal cliff."

For the stock market, it might mean less political volatility. And

for the economy, it could provide a dash of needed stability.

The reasons for this turn are fundamentally political.

Republicans are less interested in battling a

re-elected Obama, with his higher popularity ratings, than they are in

confronting

Senate Democrats. Last week's tactical retreat by House

Republicans from a clash over the nation's borrowing authority is

forcing the Senate's Democratic majority to assemble a budget,

making Democratic senators accountable for a series of specific

policies and clarifying differences between the parties ahead of

the 2014 midterm elections.

Unlike the emerging bipartisanship on an

overhaul of immigration laws, conflicts over budgets and deficits

frequently have

been resolved in a crisis atmosphere. And while immigration

changes have been pushed by a changing political landscape, issues

of spending and taxing define the core of both parties.

Republicans and the White House have tried

twice in two years to reach a "grand bargain" to reduce the long-term

deficit only

to settle for a smaller incremental deal. The process has tested

the relationship between Obama and Boehner and created tensions

for Boehner with his own Republican lawmakers. In the process,

lawmakers had to vote urgently on deals many had barely seen.

"Cooling your heels for 72 hours or 48 hours

while there's some backroom deal going on that cannot be discussed is

not exactly

why people ran for the Senate," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who

had unveiled his own 10-year, $4.5 trillion solution for

averting the end-of-year fiscal cliff.

What's more, Republican officials have

complained that Obama lectured congressional leaders during their

meetings, trying

to persuade rather than negotiate. White House officials, for

their part, complain that Boehner was an uncertain negotiator,

never able to guarantee that his party would stand by an

agreement.

As Boehner himself confessed last week in a

speech to the Republican Ripon Society: "The last two years have been

pretty rough."

He said newer Republicans lawmakers have come to think of him as

"some kind of a squish, ready to sell them out in a heartbeat."

"It really has in fact caused somewhat of breach that I've been in the middle of trying to repair," Boehner said.

While the fight over the government's

borrowing limit is now likely to be put off until May, Obama and the

Congress still

face two upcoming fiscal deadlines that could test this

unwillingness for 11th-hour White House negotiations. Tough new spending

cuts -- about $85 billion from this year's budget -- are scheduled

to kick in on March 1. On March 27, the government faces

a potential shutdown if Congress doesn't extend a temporary budget

measure.

But at the White House and in Congress, both

are seen as far less cataclysmic than failure to raise the nation's

debt ceiling.

And Republican lawmakers who once shuddered at the idea of massive

cuts, especially to defense programs, now see the automatic

reductions on March 1 as the only recourse to reduce spending.

"It's the bird in hand when it comes to cuts," said Sen. John Cornyn, the second ranking Republican leader in the Senate.

More unclear is how Republicans intend to deal with the debt ceiling in May, when Congress again will have to act to raise

it or extend it.

The White House is no more enthusiastic for last-minute deal making than Republicans are. Fiscal negotiations have been time

consuming events that have left Obama with little time to pursue other aspects of his agenda.

If freed from such talks, he can now push his proposals for overhauling immigration laws and combating gun violence.

"Going regular order slows things down and takes the president out of a central role but it's still an influential one if

he wants it," said Patrick Griffin, White House legislative director under President Bill Clinton. "The more it looks like

he's winning, the better the next battle goes for him."

What's more, White House officials say,

Obama's negotiating stance is now well known after he made a public

offer to Boehner

in December that Boehner turned down. That offer, White House

officials say, still stands: Lower cost-of-living adjustments

for Social Security recipients and other beneficiaries of

government programs, $400 billion in reduced spending in Medicare

and other health care programs over 10 years, and $600-$700

billion in tax revenue from closing loopholes and deductions by

rewriting the tax code.

In a memorandum to her colleagues, the new

Senate Budget Committee chair, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., emphasized

that "we

could raise hundreds of billions of dollars by making sure the

rich no longer benefit disproportionately from deductions and

other tax preferences." The letter did not specify an amount of

revenue. Republicans say any new tax revenue is out of the

question.

In 2014, there are 35 Senate seats up for election, 21 held by Democrats. Republicans see that as an opportunity to pick up

some seats and they see a clash over taxes as a winning proposition, especially in states Obama lost.

Moreover, a Democratic budget will test whether Democrats will embrace the Medicare cuts and Social Security changes that

Obama proposed privately in previous unsuccessful talks with Republicans.

"The president hasn't offered any of those

kinds of plans in public," Ryan said Sunday on Meet the Press. "They try

to do

back room deals, but those always seem to fall apart. We want to

have a debate in public so we can contrast these visions."

Associated Press White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this article.