The Deficit Is Falling! What It Means for a Debt Fight in Washington

But with the debt ceiling deadline coming as late as this fall and the deficit getting smaller already, Republicans may hit a wall when it comes to how much they can extract from Democrats in terms of tax or entitlement reforms and spending cuts.

Separating the issue of the debt ceiling from reforms, Democrats believe, works to their advantage.

"The Republican strategy of holding the economy hostage and trying to push this budget conference to when we have a crisis again is absolutely the wrong approach," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the fourth-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, at a press conference this week. "It is not sustainable. It needs to stop. We are ready to sit down, we're ready to negotiate, we're ready to make some tough decisions, we're ready to go to work and in the conference and we see no reason to wait until the next crisis."

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