After Protracted Fight, Both Sides Emerge Bruised

The president, with his re-election on the horizon, emerges from the showdown in a diminished state after giving considerable ground and struggling to rise above a deep partisan intransigence that has engulfed Washington. And Republican leaders, especially Speaker John A. Boehner, are bruised after navigating the intractable sentiment of the Tea Party movement.

A full victory lap was not expected — or, perhaps, deserved — by those on either side of the debate, which has consumed the capital, unnerved the financial markets and infuriated the American public. Yet even as a compromise was announced on Sunday evening, both parties were prepared to try to define the deal as staying true to their respective principles.

How well each of them does in shaping perceptions of the outcome could have a substantial effect on the 2012 presidential race and the balance of power in Washington as the ideological fight over the size and role of government grinds on.

Mr. Boehner faces an immediate test on Monday, needing to bring along enough Republicans to push the deal through the House. The Republican presidential field will have to decide how to navigate between the compromise reached by Congressional leaders and the passions of the Tea Party movement.

Mr. Obama’s challenge is to reassert himself as a leader and use the outcome to position himself on the campaign trail as the voice of reason and moderation in a bitterly polarized capital.

“Is this the deal I would have preferred? No,” Mr. Obama said from the White House. “This process has been messy; it’s taken far too long.”

For Mr. Obama, the most imminent blessings are avoiding a default and delaying the next fight over raising the debt limit until after the 2012 election. (House Republicans wanted to have another debate early next year.) He also can present himself as a deficit-cutting president, even though a fair share of the $2.4 trillion in cuts is unpopular with his core followers.

But the fine print of the agreement makes clear that Republicans received more of what they demanded than did Mr. Obama, who acquiesced in his initial call for a balanced mix of spending cuts and new revenues, despite repeatedly trying to seize the bully pulpit to build support for his argument.

For many liberals, this concession — and the president’s unwillingness to make a more full-throated case for greater action to address joblessness and protect other Democratic priorities — could undermine legislative support for the deal and increase the challenge of motivating voters in 2012.

The White House and the Senate may be controlled by Democrats, but the debate unfolded squarely on Republican turf. It is yet another sign of how the country’s politics have changed since Mr. Obama’s term began, and of the new climate facing Republicans who are jockeying for the chance to challenge the president next year.

As Mr. Boehner has witnessed throughout the debate, the newly empowered voices in the Republican Party can be difficult to control. He faces the near certainty of large numbers of defections from his ranks on Monday as he tries to win support for the compromise with the Senate, which he needs to avoid sinking the deal and owning the political fallout.

“This isn’t the greatest deal in the world,” Mr. Boehner told House Republicans in a conference call on Sunday evening. But, he added, “It shows how much we’ve changed the terms of the debate in this town.” 

While the White House has taken a measure of comfort from the displays of dysfunction in the Republican ranks, there has not been a shortage of discord among Democrats. The liberal group MoveOn.org said on Sunday that it was “extremely troubling that it now appears that some Democrats are willing to give in to Republican demands to make this already disastrous plan worse for working families.”

The outcome, perhaps, was better for Mr. Obama as a presidential candidate than as a president. His ability to face down House Republicans over the next 18 months is in question, but when he faces voters next year, his advisers believe that the debt ceiling fight will have created a clear contrast between his priorities and that of a Republican Party that he and his allies will no doubt portray as extreme.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/01/us/politics/01assess.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

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