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Many lose, few win in debt deal debacle

By JOHN WHITESIDES
August 3, 2011

President Barack Obama (2nd R) and Vice President Joe Biden (2nd L) meet with House Speaker John Boehner (L) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. (Pete Souza/The White House)

The chaotic and often ugly debt-ceiling talks managed to avert a potential economic catastrophe but inflicted new damage to the political reputations of most of the key players.

The 11th-hour deal to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling and avoid default was a rare Washington compromise — it produced few clear winners and losers but left all of the participants bruised, exhausted and a bit shattered.

Failure would have been devastating to President Barack Obama, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and conservative Tea Party movement Republicans. With the 2012 elections looming, they survived to fight another day.

But no one got all they wanted, and everyone took heat for marching the government to the brink of a devastating default in a process that graphically displayed the growing depths of Washington dysfunction.

“Everyone came out of this tainted, but nobody was really crippled,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

“Everybody, globally and domestically, just feels enervated by the whole process. It’s over, the worst didn’t happen, but it’s difficult to see how you start an upward arc from here.”

It was fitting that within hours of approving the deal, House members scurried for the airport for a month-long August vacation. The Senate was not expected to be far behind.

After last year’s approval of Obama’s landmark healthcare overhaul, the debt talks were another example of a complex legislative issue leaving Congress and the White House squabbling like kindergartners.

A Pew Research Center poll found nearly three-quarters of Americans described the process in negative terms such as “ridiculous,” “stupid,” “disgusting” and “frustrating.” It also lowered their opinions of Obama, Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, and both parties in Congress.

Republicans and Tea Party-affiliated fiscal conservatives, who played hardball in the talks to win deeper spending cuts, fared slightly worse than Obama and Democrats.

‘NOBODY LOOKS GOOD’

“No one came out of this looking good, but the Republicans generally came across a little worse than Democrats,” said Pew president Andrew Kohut.

Obama appeared weak and sidelined at times during the lengthy talks. After demanding a balanced approach that included revenue increases, he accepted a cuts-only package but won his desire to put off the next debt ceiling fight until after the 2012 election.

He improved his re-election prospects in 2012, however, simply by avoiding being the president in charge when the United States went into default for the first time.

The showdown sharpened his pitch to moderates, highlighting his protection of the popular Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid social programs for the elderly and poor.

Republicans were successful in controlling and framing the political debate, elevating deficit reduction and cutting government as economic cures above job creation.

Boehner and Republicans won the deep spending cuts they desired, but Boehner was unable to control his conservative Tea Party caucus and was forced to walk away from bigger spending cuts when he could not win their support for a deal that included revenue increases.

“We see this as a good step in the right direction, as a decent downpayment on the deficit, and as a huge change in the culture of spending,” said Republican Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The Tea Party movement proved its political muscle by setting the agenda and forcing Obama and Boehner to repeatedly bow to its demands, although it is unclear how popular those hardline tactics will prove for more moderate voters in 2012.

“The Tea Party ceded the political center to Obama,” said Dan Schnur of the University of Southern California, who was an aide to Republican John McCain during his 2000 presidential campaign.

“They might not have gotten everything they wanted, but they came pretty close,” he said.

But there were a few clear winners and losers among the role-players in the budget drama.

Grover Norquist, author of an anti-tax pledge signed by nearly all House and Senate Republicans, won his pitched battle to keep revenue increases out of the deal.

Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, won praise for helping to hammer out the deal in the final hours of negotiations before Tuesday’s deadline for a default.

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney was criticized for avoiding a position on the debt talks until after the final deal was struck — a move that fed doubts about his willingness to take a tough stand.

One website depicted Romney on the side of a milk carton like a missing child, under the header: “Missing leadership.”

Romney, like most of the other Republican presidential contenders except Jon Huntsman, opposed the final deal.

5 Responses to Many lose, few win in debt deal debacle

  1. Davld Clark

    August 3, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Whatever Thomas Jefferson would say. ditto.

  2. Almandine

    August 3, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Americans of every stripe lost, because we are further into national bankruptcy than we were before. No one with any degree of understanding is saying we’ll ever get out of this without a major default of some sort… mostly likely a currency devaluation of major proportions.

    For all the talk of “immediate” spending cuts of $1T in the debt deal, the actual amount of cuts in 2012 is a mere $7B. So what’s all the commotion about?

    It’s no wonder that anyone with a lick of sense, Republican candidates included, doesn’t feel like much was accomplished toward putting our fiscal house in order.

    Historically, the tax/spend equation has been in near balance at 18 to 20 % of GDP. Today, revenues ($2.2T) are about 61% of govt spending ($3.6T), which is about 25% of GDP. Clearly, to raise the amount of taxes enough to bring the equation back into balance would require an additional tax load of about 63%, spending cuts aside.

    Is that where we should be headed?

  3. Faithfu Servant

    August 3, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    The boogieman used to be a monster lurking in the shadows, waiting to jump out and grab you. Now the boogieman is hiding in the shadows of Washington, lurking and encroaching, step by step into our lives each day! They continue gnashing at the mouth, stumbling in the darkness.
    Our government seems to think that they alone possess all the power, magnificence, and glory. Their personalities and power cast a shadow across our nation and the world. Washington DC, a city set on Capital Hill, cannot be hidden.
    The executive officials of our government, and this legislation making our laws have made us submit to a budget that most Americans do not agree with. The use of force and threats, to coarse us into intense fear and submit to their political policies is Terrorism at its best. The play the American people as fools and deceive us with their silly, unwise and ubsurd way of serving We the American people.
    They can call our fellow Americans Terrorist, radical, racist, fringe, extremists, hostage takers, yet we are expected to be politically correct towards terrorism on our own country!
    They want us all to continue to live in darkness with them, but I will follow the light of the world, and as long as I have the right to my free speech I will descent. Those who cling to our Bibles and guns are called the new outlaws and we can all see this! We are attacked for our love of the Father and anxiously await till the last of the body of Christ makes the right choice. We ask not to be hated for our love for all the human race, but cannot be mad at God, for the choice is yours alone. Wake up and turn on the lights!
    A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight. We put no confidence in the flesh to accomplish our desires because it is God who accomplishes all these things.
    We now have Czars which is the tittle of any former emperor of Rome. Capital Hill has now turned into Capitoline Hill, the Highest of the seven hills of Rome, a historic religious center of the cit, and they are throwing us to the lions.
    He who leads the upright astray in an evil way will himself fall into his own pit, but the blameless shall inherit good. As for god, His way is blameless, the work of the Lord is tried; He is the shield to all who take refuge in Him.
    The wise man knows their is a greater power at work than the power we see exerted in this world. Things which are a mere shadow of what is to come, and the substance belongs to Christ, as God’s power overshadows everything!
    Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow! Always remember that Only the shadow knows! BWAHAHAHA This little light of mineā€¦I’m gonna let it shine!
    May God love, bless and keep you always!

  4. Keith

    August 4, 2011 at 7:34 am

    As Thomas Jefferson once said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.”

    Clearly, nothing has changed.

    • Danny Adams

      August 5, 2011 at 12:32 pm

      Keith–while I heartily agree with the sentiment, this isn’t actually a Jefferson quote. I think the earliest attribution is to Barry Goldwater.