By Billy House and Chris Frates
Updated: January 18, 2013 | 6:53 a.m.
January 17, 2013 | 5:42 p.m.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Republicans appear to be willing to avoid a showdown over the debt limit and instead use the sequester as their main negotiating lever in upcoming fiscal fights with the White House and Senate Democrats.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Republicans at a closed-door retreat in Williamsburg were weighing a short-term increase in the country’s borrowing limit, giving all sides time to work on a broader fiscal plan in March that would include substantial spending cuts.

“Sometimes you’ve got to lay down a sacrifice bunt,” said Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida about the debt ceiling increase. He said there was a realization among his House GOP colleagues that they had to be ready to deal when negotiations began.

That strategy would represent an about-face for a Republican conference that has now repeatedly denied Speaker John Boehner the support he needed to strike compromises with Democrats.

But a debt-limit fight is one many leading Republicans – including former Speaker Newt Gingrich – were loudly warning against. Gingrich and others have argued that Republicans should reserve what capital they have for negotiations they stand a greater chance of winning, including on legislation that funds the government, reduces spending, and unwinds the coming across-the-board cut known as sequestration.

And it appears clear that even some of the more conservative House Republicans are starting to agree.

“We have no interest in shutting down government. We don’t have to,” said Republican Rep. John Fleming. “The sequestration goes into effect by law and I don’t think the president is going to want the kind of cuts … any more than we do. So we’re on equal footing now.”

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