After budget battle Act 1, will Obama, Reid, Boehner have an Act 2?
Looming debt-ceiling talks may be a bigger hurdle for the three negotiators than the hard-fought deal on the 2011 budget. As for a deficit-cutting plan? Obama and Boehner are starting far apart.
The face-to-face budget negotiations of three men – President Obama, Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada – marked a rare plunge into bipartisan dealmaking in a Capitol addicted to partisan gridlock. Their engagement – and that of key aides, working nearly 24/7 – narrowly averted a government shutdown over the fiscal year 2011 budget.Skip to next paragraph
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The trillion-dollar question now is whether that hard labor has forged a working relationship that the three leaders can build on to tackle even bigger fiscal issues that lie ahead. Or not.
One hurdle may be that Democrats and Republicans emerge from Round 1 with different expectations for next steps. "There's nothing inevitable about this [first budget] deal," says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. "For Republicans, it's a precedent to cut more. For Mr. Obama, it's a precedent to think about something else besides spending cuts."
Americans won't have to wait long to see if a spirit of dealmaking can persist. Already under way: jockeying over the 2012 budget. Up next: a politically perilous vote on the national debt ceiling, now at $14.25 trillion. (If Congress does not act to raise the debt limit, the US government would hit its ceiling on May 16 and – after using accounting measures to buy more time – default on its debt payments by early July, the US Treasury estimates.)
One takeaway from the three leaders' negotiation marathon: House Speaker Boehner, the lone Republican in the room, succeeded in using the threat of an angry, beyond-his-control, 87-strong GOP freshman class – pledged to roll back the size of government – to block "investments" in economic recovery and to leverage some spending cuts, though not as many as conservatives had wanted.
Now, with a Gallup poll showing that 6 in 10 Americans approve of the budget deal that slices $38 billion from spending for the next six months, the president has moved toward embracing the role of deficit slayer. When House Republicans rolled out their plan on April 6 to cut more spending into the future, Obama answered a week later by unveiling his own deficit-reduction proposal during a speech at George Washington University.