Analysis: Obama's budget win has strings attached

By most measures, President Barack Obama emerged far stronger than his Republican adversaries in Washington's latest fiscal fight. He gave away virtually nothing and his hard-line tactics exposed deep divisions among Republicans and growing public frustration with the GOP.
AP Wire
Oct 17, 2013

But Obama's victory came with strings attached. Under his watch, big swaths of the federal government were shuttered for 16 days, forcing hundreds of thousands of workers off the job and restricting many services. The nation was brought to the brink of a default for the second time in two years. And Congress' last-minute deal generated yet another round of looming deadlines on the same issues, with no guarantee that Republican opposition to Obama's objectives will be dampened in any way.

"What comes next is very unpredictable," said Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist. "The notion that this group of people is going to be chastened by this, while it seems obvious, is uncertain."

Indeed, there's little consensus among Republicans about how to proceed in the aftermath of the budget crisis. Some conservatives who demanded changes to Obama's health care law in exchange for funding the government have signaled they're ready to dig in for another fight. Among them is Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who said Republicans may have "lost the battle but we're going to win the war."

But other GOP lawmakers are demanding that their party make a course correction.

"Hopefully, the lesson is to stop this foolish childishness," said John McCain, the longtime Arizona senator.

Republicans will have to quickly settle on a strategy. The deal that ended this month's standoff only keeps the government open through Jan. 15 and extends borrowing authority through Feb. 7, though emergency measures may give the administration another month before reaching the debt limit. The agreement also requires bipartisan negotiators to issue a report by Dec. 13 on broader budget issues like spending levels, deficit reduction and entitlement reforms — all matters over which the White House and congressional Republicans have long been at odds.

What happens during this next round of deadlines will help clarify whether Obama's October win has done anything to alter the political dynamic in Washington or whether it was an isolated achievement.

The White House said the president is entering the next phase of the debate with a similarly unyielding strategy. Aides said he is willing to make concessions as part of a larger budget deal but won't let Republicans make funding the government or lifting the debt ceiling contingent on certain outcomes.

Some GOP leaders had assumed Obama would abandon that hard-line stance during the most recent debate. Many were taking their lessons from the last budget and debt fight in 2011, when Obama indeed made concessions to keep the government open and avoid a default.

But Republicans misread how political shifts in Washington over the past two years had affected the president, and in particular how Obama's resolve had been stiffened by the fact he doesn't have to run for office again. Staunch conservatives also ignored warnings from more moderate Republicans, who argued that Obama would never agree to changes in the health care law that remains his signature legislative achievement.

"A fundamental flaw — and probably the biggest flaw — was that they were negotiating for something that wasn't really negotiable," said Patrick Griffin, who served as President Bill Clinton's legislative affairs director during the 1995 government shutdown.

The start of the government shutdown coincided with the start of sign-ups for the "Obamacare" law's health insurance exchanges — a rollout that was marred by widespread problems. In an ironic twist, the Republican insistence on shutting down the government in order to make changes to the law wound up overshadowing its glitches and a glaring embarrassment for the president.

The result of the Republican miscalculations: a wave of public opinion polls showing that the GOP took the biggest hit as the budget war dragged on. A Washington Post-ABC News survey released Monday found 74 percent disapproved of the way the Republicans in Congress were handling negotiations over the federal budget, up 11 points since just before the shutdown began. Views on how Obama and congressional Democrats handled the budget battle tilted negative but did not change significantly over the course of the shutdown.

Despite their dour approval ratings, Republicans may again try to test whether Obama is willing to hold his hard line in the new year. But Obama — long a believer in the power of public opinion — is banking that the anger Americans aimed at Republicans in recent weeks will persuade them to shift course.

"The Republicans recognize this was not a good strategy and seeing the horrible reaction from the American people, I'm pretty sure they're not going to run this play again," the president said.

Julie Pace has covered the White House for The Associated Press since 2009.

Comments

michiglen

Blah blah blah....

Political posturing from either side is not a win for the American public.

Can anyone explain to me how a government can approve/expect/budget for increasing the amount of national debt without trying to reign in spending or increasing taxes?

The debt ceiling is rising in a seemingly exponential rate. It has to stop. Who owns our debt and what happens when they want to call it quits because of the political BS and poor governing that is happening right now?

If I earn $25,000 a year and spend $70,000 a year, year after year, I would be thrown out on the streets.

How long will it be before the "US of America" is the "US of Insolvency".

I feel for the families of our armed forces who lost loved ones during the government shut down. The neglect of providing financial aid during the absolute worst time of their lives is inexplicable.

Thank you to all members of all our services for the risks that you take, and work that you do.

The fact that our politicians kept getting paid and furloughed workers were promised 'backpay' for their forced holiday before realizing that benefits for "war widows" was missing is abhorrent.

Who is really looking after who? Where are the real priorities of our "leaders"?

winggirl

Well said, michiglen.

Mystic Michael

The President hasn't actually "emerged" all THAT strong. Let's bear in mind that all that's really been accomplished during the past three weeks is that Obama and the Senate Democrats managed to successfully fend off an extra-constitutional attack on the federal government by right-wing extremists. Substantively, we're pretty much back where we were at the end of September. In other words, the President and his political allies haven't really advanced their own agenda. They've been stuck playing defense. Again.

And that is the political landscape in microcosm: Because the goal posts have been moved so far to the right during the past 30 years or so, virtually all policy debates & negotiations have been conducted on what is essentially Republican territory - not on neutral ground. To extend the football analogy, it is for the Democrats the equivalent of the midfield point having been redefined as the Democrats own 30-yard line: Democrats must drive 70 yards for a touchdown. Republicans need drive only 30 yards.

That is what needs to change. Thirty-plus years of Republican reframing of public issues must be undone in order for Democrats to reclaim their own territory. Then, and only then, can these debates - and the public policy that results - be conducted on the basis of the genuine merit of the ideas, instead of Republican fear, smear and chronic misrepresentation.

Tri-cities realist

Other than the "extra-constitutional attack?" (Remember revenue bills originate in the house, how is that extra-Constitutional?) I agree with you that nothing has really changed, the govt continues to spend money they don't have, borrow to cover it, with virtually no end in sight.

I find your analysis of the political landscape over the last 30 years interesting. I feel the same way, but in the exact opposite direction over the last 20 or so years. So it is a matter of perspective when we see the "other side" advancing their agenda, and tend to overlook "our sides" victories. But I don't really see how you can claim the political landscape has shifted to the right. Sure, the tea party type conservatives (grass roots, don't we all like those grass roots movements?) have occasionally become more vocal, but time after time, the moderate Republicans concede to the democrats, and gain very little, if anything, for their side. If the 50 yard line has been moved, how in the world did the ACA get passed? (Now we can talk about extra-Constitutional). Other than some welfare reform 20 years ago, I see the left advancing their agenda more than the right, amnesty, bigger govt, etc.

But fear not, we'll hopefully get another showdown in the next couple of months. And out of curiosity, do you not see the deficit and debt level as a major problem for our country?

Lanivan

Oh - a great deal has changed. For starters:

For being fiscally conservative, one would think you would be furious that this harmless little 'grass-roots Tea Party movement' with the goal of government collapse has in fact cost the government (the taxpayers) dozens of Billions of dollars, and will continue to hurt both the present and future economies - that were not strong to begin with.

1. We Get To Do This All Over Again In January.

2. The Harsh Spending Cuts Of The Sequester Are Still In Place.

3. The U.S. Is Perilously Close To Being Downgraded Again.

4. The Whole Fiasco Is Still Hurting The Economy.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/20...

But I forgot - you're good with this. If you think the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the Iraq War, the Bush tax cuts that benefited the wealthy in ways that are best shown on the following chart, the deregulation of the banking industry, and so much more that brought about the worst recession in 80 years is the result of movement to the left, you are sorely in need of some remedial study.

The US is #1 in the world in one key way:

That one way? We're really, really good at creating really, really rich people -- like, $50 million-plus rich. Just ignore the fact that our 400 wealthiest people are worth more than the entire bottom half of the country combined. And now, the chart:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/20...

winggirl

Lanivan:

1. "We Get To Do This All Over Again In January" because nothing got fixed. This president spent more money, adjusting for the rate of inflation, in his first 100 days in office than any other before him. The American people are not open pocketbooks. One hundred years ago, there was NO income tax and NO debt.

2. Harsh spending cuts are necessary. If you don't have it, don't spend it. Being in debt is BAD, BAD, BAD.

3. The U.S. needs to be downgraded. See #2.

4. Creating more debt hurts the economy, screws up inflation and raises taxes.

Tri-cities realist

Govt collapse as its goal? Hardly. More like right sized govt.

Only in the US can partially shutting down the govt actually cost taxpayers more money. How about NOT paying people for work they didn't do?

Yep Fannie Mae is a bastion of right wingers... please.

And once again, in response to your loathing of the super rich, I will ask the question, how should this "problem" be fixed, in your opinion? Is it time to just confiscate their wealth and redistribute it? And since the rich pay the large majority of taxes, I would think you would be grateful to them for financing our govt.

Lanivan

Please read my links. And if you don't like those, there are tons more out there that explain things better than I can.

As for my "loathing of the super rich", don't twist my sentiments. I don't "loathe" them; I "loathe" the greed, the hoarding, and the ease with which the US has allowed the super rich and transnational corporations reach the highest pinnacle of profitability ever in the history of mankind, and yet the middle class has stagnated or reversed it's climb over the same time period.

It's unbalanced, and as a centrist, feel it is one of the major problems facing the US. History has shown over and over that when wealth disparity overwhelms a society, bad things happen.

Tri-cities realist

I read your links. And I disagree with the "experts" who think we should abolish the debt ceiling. While it is money that was already spent, I think it is instructive for the American people to see the outrageous sums of money our govt has borrowed, with no end in sight.

And why has the middle class stagnated? Too much govt intervention, or too little?

" I don't "loathe" them; I "loathe" the greed," So you can separate the supposed reason for the wealth (greed), from the person? Talk about nuanced. But I'll play along. Should we tax the super rich to make it more fair? I mean do they really NEED that much money?

Still waiting for YOUR solution. I'm not looking for a bunch of links, just a few sentences reflecting your opinion from the vast sources you've scoured. And I'm not being snarky, you are obviously intelligent, so I'd like to read your opinion.

retired DOC

Why are the laid off government workers going to get their back pay for work they did not do and not have to pay back the unemployment money they got?

MeanSmith

Government workers worked on Sunday the 29th and Monday the 30th, thus making the unemployment entitlements null or very small for the period of 29Sept-6Oct. Most were ordered back on the 7th. If the few that didn't get ordered back to work the following week did receive unemployment benefits, and get this mysterious pay for the work they did not do, they will have to pay the government back. Come on Doc.
My question is, when will they be getting paid for the 4 hours that the government forced workers to come in, close down work areas and sign the furlough notices?
Government workers are not getting paid for work they did not do. it would be nice but this is not happening. Where are you getting your info Doc? Stay in your lane.

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