Sunday, April 10, 2011

Obama And Boehner Happy


They say sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And "they" would be right.

On April 3 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Bob Schieffer "The tea party is dictating a lot that goes on in the Republican leadership in the House… it shouldn't be that way." Three days later, Chuck Schumer would maintain on Good Morning America "The Tea Party just continues to pull Speaker Boehner further back and back and back." The following day, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, told reporters "Speaker Boehner is not in control. The tea party caucus has their hands on the steering wheel and they are prepared to drive right into a government shut down if they don't get 100% of their demands met."

In the midst of top Democrats characterizing the Speaker as reasonable, boldly holding back the extremist hordes at the gate, Boehner put on what appeared to be a brave public face. He assured ABC's George Stephanopoulos

Listen, there’s no daylight between the Tea Party and me,” Boehner told me today during our exclusive interview.... What they want is they want us to cut spending. They want us to deal with this crushing debt that’s going to crush the future for our kids and grandkids. There’s no daylight there.

Two days later Democrats, led by President Obama, had completed their total capitulation on fiscal matters to the weepy Republican leader as they agreed to $38.5 billion in cuts from the 2010 baseline, $5.5 billion more than Boehner's original proposal. (The Democrats fared better on the policy riders but are not out of the woods yet- and then, this was a budget measure, after all.) Barack Obama announced himself pleased, stating

Last night, after weeks of long and difficult negotiations over our national budget, leaders of both parties came together to avert a government shutdown, cut spending, and invest in our future. This is good news for the American people.... Reducing spending while still investing in the future is just common sense.

Despite Democratic relief that a semi-shutdown had been averted, it appears that the daylight top Democrats saw between Boehner and the tea party now bears some resemblance to an Alaskan winter. The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Levitz write

Leaders of the small-government, tea-party movement are generally giving House Speaker John Boehner high marks for his leadership in the spending showdown, even though the agreement eventually reached Friday night fell short of the cuts the tea party once demanded.

House Speaker John Boehner, shown Friday as negotiations continued to reach a budget deal, appears to have gained from risking a shutdown.

The relationship between the Republican leadership and these activists is one of the most important determinants of how this Congress will manage the fiscal fights to come.

Tea-party backers have been leery of Mr. Boehner for months, questioning his zeal and driving him toward a tougher line on spending.

As negotiations inched close to a deal late Friday, much of the movement's institutional leadership resisted raising the temperature and were willing to cut Mr. Boehner some slack, in hope that he will extract more dramatic concessions in the budget showdowns to come.

Within weeks, the House will press forward on a blueprint to dramatically change Medicare and Medicaid, lower tax rates, simplify the tax code, and cut nonsecurity spending by $1.6 trillion over the next decade.

By mid-May, another showdown will come as the federal government reaches its statutory limit on borrowing. And this summer, Congress must go to work on spending bills for fiscal 2012.

Conservative activists will rely on the leadership of Mr. Boehner, a man who re-emerged into Republican leadership on a platform of fiscal rectitude. His management of his restive caucus and the unpredictable tea-party movement has proved more successful than even some of his colleagues thought possible when the new Congress convened earlier this year.

"They're doing pretty well so far," said Matt Kibbe, president and chief executive of FreedomWorks, a conservative organization that has helped fund the tea-party movement.

"If the Republicans back down from the fight just because the Democrats are itching for a government shutdown, that'll be disappointing to us, but we understand they only control a third of the policy-making here"....

Some tea-party members voiced support for Republicans pushing for policy issues.

"The government is wasting tax dollars on things that should not be paid for by the general public," says Diane Canney, a 48-year-old stay-at-home mother who is also a co-founder of the Valley Forge Patriots. "For me as a Catholic who does not believe in abortions, to take my taxes and fund Planned Parenthood, that is not fair," she says.

Predictions of a full-scale tea party revolt now appear overblown. Mr. Boehner's initial offer of $35 billion in cuts infuriated many activists and conservative lawmakers, forcing him to raise the ante to $61 billion.

He ended up with $39 billion. By holding out and risking a government shutdown, the speaker appears to have redirected tea-party anger toward the Democrats.

Gene Clem, a director for the Michigan Tea Party Alliance, a coalition of some 30 tea-party groups in the southwestern part of the state, says members are "pretty happy" because "we got quite a few cuts and we made the point that we have to change our way of thinking and that the deficit just can't go on."

Some may be keeping their powder dry for future rounds. "I'm really disappointed, but I know [Mr. Boehner] is in a difficult situation," said retiree Betty Dunkel, the 75-year-old co-founder of the Valley Forge Patriots, a tea-party group outside Philadelphia. "I don't like it, but at this point, let's just get something done, let's get on with it and then work very, very hard on 2012 budget—and we also have the debt ceiling to deal with."


President Obama, however, is figuring that it's only his party's pockets- not his won- which have been picked. Howard Fineman explains

But politically, this is where Barack Obama wants to be. He wants to be the budget cutter. He has an unerring instinct for the middle of the political spectrum, the middle of the political conversation generally among independent voters right now, which is about budget cutting, so politically he's making the gamble that he's moved to the right political place and that economically, the economy is recovering fast enough now, we've had good growth, job growth numbers in the last couple months.

He's making a bet that those job growth numbers will continue and whatever stimulus is removed by this will not adversely affect the economy enough to counter balance what he thinks is a smart move to the center.


And he looks like he's been pushed there, but politically that's where he wants to be.

President Obama didn't need to be pushed too hard in order to focus the attention of Congress and the American people from the economy to the budget, to cut a deal allowing him to boast about "the biggest annual spending cut in history" during an economic slump, or to bring the tea party and House GOP leadership closer to each another. If the economy continues to recover (even at its slow pace) and the President is re-elected, Barack Obama will be justly gleeful but, as Taylor Marsh notes

The Democrats aren’t making the case for progressive economic justice anymore, because in the era of Obama the boss doesn’t have the principles or belief in foundational Democratic ideals to do it, because he’s too busy making tactical moves to look non-ideological. That may be good for him, but it’s awful for Democrats.





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