Saturday, April 9, 2011

Shutdown Countdown: The Morning After

Having slept on it, this morning I'm looking at the results of last night's deal and I'm shaking my head.  Yes, Obama and the Democrats came away preventing a shutdown and looked like the adults in the room.  The deal they struck was a bad deal, but it was the only deal available.  Neither side is happy with it.  Billions in social spending were removed from the budget during a faltering economy, meanwhile Tea Party types are screaming for blood, because they wanted a hundred billion in cuts and the elimination of funding for People They Hate.

The problem continues to be two larger, uglier battles ahead.

In waiting until the 11th hour to act as referee, Obama cast himself as the closer, the grown-up in the room who is not interested in flinging mud but instead reaching consensus and middle ground -- and most of all -- averting a government shutdown. And his advisers are counting on that leadership to transcend partisan politics and appeal to the average American fed up with the ways of Washington.

"In the final hours, leaders in both parties reached an agreement that allowed families to get the mortgage they applied for...and hundreds of thousands of people to show up to work Monday and get their paycheck on time, including our military," Obama said.

Yet, if Boehner was the happy warrior, as he told reporters with a smile Friday, Obama was a reluctant one. Throughout the week, Obama groused about his job as "referee" in talks between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, but also has acquiesced to playing the role of disappointed parent, the "grown-up" in the room, as he likes to say.

Earlier this week, he scolded Republicans and Democrats for not being able to play nicely and work things out themselves, and Thursday night he instructed Boehner and Reid to work through the night and get back to him on the morning on any progress.

Obama now gets to take credit for helping to avert a crisis, but the measure funding government for the rest of the year makes deep cuts in some of liberals' most beloved spending programs and exacts $6 billion in cuts than Senate Democrats said they would tolerate only days earlier. The recriminations on those issues will no doubt continue for weeks.

At the same time, Obama's leading role in achieving a compromise would likely win over a large swath of independent voters -- who desperately wanted the partisan bickering in Washington to end and preferred an imperfect deal rather than allow the government to shutdown, according to a recent national opinion survey by the Pew Research Center

So, Obama went all pragmatic instead of all cowboy, and a deal was reached.  A shutdown was averted, and Obama does look, well, presidential.  They say a deal that everybody hates is a fair one.

But the stakes in the next few months will have a hell of a lot more zeroes attached to them.  We get to go through all this again heading into the summer.

[UPDATE]  BooMan's take is excellent.

I notice a lot of commenters here are taking the position that the Republicans came out ahead in these negotiations. In a certain basic sense, they did. But most of that was baked in the cake the moment they took over the House by gaining an historic 63 seats. Despite all the angst over the slashing of discretionary spending (this was the biggest one-year cut in history), this battle was over a tiny sliver of the overall budget. The big battles over entitlement spending loom on the horizon, and the Republicans expended a tremendous amount of political capital to get a very small victory. You can count on them to threaten a government shutdown at least two more times this year. First, they'll threaten to default on our debt, and then they'll threaten "no deal" on the 2012 budget. They were wise enough not to close the government on the first and smallest fight, but they'll pay a higher political price every time they hold the government hostage.

We all complain about the Democrats' lack of unity and fighting spirit, but they finished these negotiations completely unified and on message. Yesterday was the best performance by the Democrats that I've seen in years. They blistered the Republicans for wanting to shut down the government to prevent cancer screenings and breast exams, and they did it in a very bold and coordinated way. It showed the power of the presidency when he decides to draw a line and he actually has the undivided support of his party. They were well-prepared for a government shutdown, and that bodes well for later battles.

And that is a very fair argument.  But if we're calling cutting government social spending in a recession and it taking Republicans threatening to shut the government down before the Dems can finally be unified and on message as the "best performance in years" we're in deep and abiding fecal matter.

[UPDATE 2]  To clarify, the argument in Washington is not "How do we strengthen our economy with the government as spender of last resort" but "How much government spending do we feed to the Tea Party wolves to make it through to the 2012 elections."  There's nobody talking about how to pull us out of the hole we're in.  It's only how much the American people are going to have to tighten their belts again to give tax cuts to the people at the top.

We have decisively lost the "spend or cut" argument.  The argument is now how much we will lose.  Obama will be blamed for that loss even as Republicans call for more sacrifice from 95% of Americans in the name of the wealthy at the top.

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