Michael Barone
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Have the House Republicans come up with a winning strategy on the debt ceiling and spending cuts? Or just a viable one? Maybe so.

They certainly need one that is at least the latter, if not the former. Barack Obama is up in the polls since the election, as most re-elected presidents have been. The most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows him with 52 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval. Other public polls have similar results.

In contrast, the NBC/WSJ poll reports that only 26 percent have positive feelings about the Republican Party and 51 negative feelings. Toward Speaker John Boehner only 18 percent have positive feelings and 37 percent negative feelings.

It's usually true that groups get lower ratings than individuals and congressional leaders get lower ratings than presidents. Still, these results represent a pretty negative verdict on House Republicans' attempts to wrestle Obama into supporting their preferred fiscal policies.

Defections by enough House Republicans to defeat Boehner's Plan B approach to the fiscal cliff ended up producing a compromise considerably less to their liking. The agreement reached by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did limit effective tax increases to those with incomes over $400,000.

But it also gave Democrats something they want -- a permanent fix to the Alternative Minimum Tax, which threatened to engulf high-earning Democratic voters in high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and California. Republicans used to dangle a one-year AMT fix as a negotiating chip in fiscal battles. Now they can't.

The House Republicans seem to be emerging from their Williamsburg retreat with a united approach to the debt ceiling issue, however. Raise the debt ceiling for three months and couple it with a cut off of congressional pay if the Democratic-majority Senate fails to pass a budget, as it has for the last three years.

This is similar to the approached advocated by former Bush budget negotiator Keith Hennessey: Give Democrats an alternative between short-term debt limit increases with no immediate spending cuts and a long-term increase with serious spending cuts.

Senate Democrats are a more attractive target than the president. The NBC/WSJ poll shows only 16 percent with positive feelings toward Majority Leader Harry Reid and 28 percent with negative feelings.

Fully 36 percent have no view, significantly more than the 22 percent with no view about Boehner. That leaves plenty of room to drive Reid's negatives up. The no-budget, no-pay provision is perhaps a gimmick, but may strike a chord with voters.

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Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM