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President Barack Obama scored a rare second-term victory with the decision by House Republican leaders to capitulate and allow a “clean” vote to raise the federal debt limit – without demanding anything in return.

That might say more about the president’s rocky year than anything else. The failure to pass gun-control legislation, the inability (so far) to achieve immigration reform and the botched rollout of the health-care law’s federal website and exchanges have set a low bar.

This time around, things are different. After the White House’s bruising battle in 2011 to raise the debt limit – in return for substantial budget cuts – Democrats unveiled a new strategy: They would no longer negotiate to raise the debt ceiling.

“If we continue to set a precedent in which a president -- any president, a Republican, a Democrat -- where the opposing party controls the House of Representatives, if each time the United States is called to pay the bills, the other party can simply sit there and say, ‘We're not going to pay the bills unless you give us what we want,’ it changes the structure of the government entirely,” Obama said in an interview last year.

Republicans believed the president and his team was bluffing. Their argument: Since the president had negotiated on the debt ceiling before, he’d negotiate again – and they’d be able to use the leverage to extract big spending cuts in concession.

But Congress last fall voted to re-open the federal government after the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling for a few months without anything in return.

Now four months later, it appears that House Republicans will allow another “clean” debt-ceiling hike.

But while the GOP’s capitulation here on raising the debt ceiling represents a victory for Obama and the Democrats, there’s still a substantial achievement for the Republican Party and the Tea Party, too: The federal budget deficit is projected to be just $514 billion this year – down from $1.4 trillion in 2009.