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The debt-ceiling deal: Who wins and who loses?

August 01, 2011|By James Oliphant
(Yuri Gripas/Reuters )

The dust is still settling from the debt-ceiling accord reached over the weekend between the White House and congressional Republicans. So far, the deal has the true hallmarks of a compromise; it's been blasted on both the right and the left, so much so that its passage remains uncertain.

The process was laborious. and so full of starts, stops, and walkouts and accusations, that it’s hard to say any single politician -- or any institution -- emerged unscathed. Instead, it could be argued that all of Washington came out with a black eye, with the public thinking less of all involved -- if that’s possible—as a result.

Here's a look at the how the major players in the debate look today, with the caveat that a final agreement still hasn’t passed the Senate or the House.

President Obama: Can you call the president a winner? He got much of what, politically, he needed for 2012: a debt-ceiling deal that takes the nation through next year and avoids what could have been an international economic catastrophe. In the final agreement, he was also able to protect cherished totems such as Social Security, Medicare benefits, and veterans benefits from automatic cuts if a congressional super-committee can't work out a deficit package, ensure that cuts to defense spending will be on the table along with entitlements, and retain the potential expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts as leverage.

At the end of the day, should the deal clear Congress, he’ll be able to tell the American people (and, more crucially, independent voters) that he was able to get the GOP to the table and produce an agreement -- and since the public has a short memory, voters may soon forget all about the tangled process that led to this moment.

But liberals are furious with the president for risking entitlements at all, while some conservatives are crowing that they brought him to his knees. His public approval rating has bottomed out after the salad days of May when Osama bin Laden was killed. And after insisting on first, a “clean” debt-limit  vote and then maintaining that any deal must contain tax increases, Obama was dragged rightward by an insurgent House that appeared willing to take a chance on the nation defaulting.

From that perspective, the president never held a strong hand. His view of the world didn’t match up with those who simply refused to see raising the debt limit as an economic necessity. By that token, one could argue that he procured the best deal he could. Of course, if the deal doesn't end up passing, the president's standing could be in serious jeopardy.

Speaker John Boehner: Has any political figure in recent memory had his obituary written more times in the last week than this old-schooler from southern Ohio? Yet should he -- and this is a big "if" -- convince most of the members of his caucus Monday to vote for the bill, then much of the hand-wringing may have been for nothing. Yes, what happened last Thursday during Boehner’s first attempt to pass his debt-ceiling deal was embarrassing, but other speakers have suffered similar indignities.

After that failure, Boehner was savvy enough to tack right to appease his caucus and and add a balanced-budget amendment provision when he was fairly sure that language would not survive a final deal (and he was proven correct) — and much of the framework for that final deal came from his legislation. In the end, the intransigence of the "tea party" bloc may have worked to his benefit, as their seeming irrationality tied Boehner’s hands in signing off on a "grand bargain" and forced Democrats to surrender their bargaining position.

Still, the rebels in the House have shown that their loyalties to the speaker, and to their party, only run so deep, meaning that the speaker’s hold on power will continue to appear at times tenuous — even if that isn’t necessarily the case.

Senate deal-makers: From the Gang of Six, to the Biden talks, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s last stand, the Senate, traditionally the place where deals get brokered, became largely irrelevant. Part of that, at the end of the day, was by choice, as Reid sat back to let the process between the White House and Boehner play out.  But given that many of the hard choices concerning deficit reduction have been kicked to a joint, bipartisan committee, there’s still a chance for those on the Hill who want a serious debate about spending reform to have an impact.  All in all, the most influential senator may have been. . .

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