The similarities between sports and politics are almost always most apparent at the end of a battle. The only things missing from last Friday’s celebrations after the budget deal, for instance, were high fives, a Gatorade shower, and champagne. Obama correctly hailed it as good for the country, Harry Reid called it historic, and John Boehner was being described as a near miracle worker by his caucus. True, a government shutdown was averted. But is this really an historic achievement? The voter might very well disagree.
The assembly of the deal was anything but endearing, as partisan considerations held sway for the past 10 days. While the result was acceptable, the process was messy. This does not augur well for the next two battles—the vote on raising the debt ceiling due between the end of May and early July, and the budget battle for 2011-2012. The stakes will be just as high and will only get higher the election draws closer.
The battle lines became clearer last week when GOP Congressman Paul Ryan presented his plan to achieve a balanced budget. Ryan called for the transformation of Medicare and Medicaid in ways the Democrats say will all but eliminate the programs or substantially reduce their impact. The Democrats will continue to criticize, but the voters, now conscious of the fiscal risks facing the nation, will expect an alternative vision. All this will be played out against an increasingly unpredictable Republican presidential nomination contest and a President already in full campaign mode.
The Tea Party is already uneasy with the budget deal. The caucus members seem ready to endorse it, but Michele Bachmann has already come out against it and outside Tea Partiers are expressing their discontent.
The deal includes no tax increases and $38 billion in cuts, though none that would effect Obama’s health care reform, the EPA, or Planned Parenthood. Republican policy and ideological concerns seem to have given way to fiscal perogatives at the end of the day.
Who won? The short answer is the voter. Obama came across as the architect of a bipartisan compromise similar to the pre-Christmas agreement on the Bush tax cuts. Meanwhile, House Speaker Boehner was in tough, having to cope with the Tea Party ‘s reported intransigence and their mistrust of the Republican leadership. Boehner was clever and, in the long run, likely helped his party by appearing firm but not fully unreasonable. This was probably a win-win outcome for the Democratic and Republican camps.
It is understandable, though a little disconcerting, that the politicians were relieved and appeared more like locker room jocks. This was a step toward fiscal restraint and credible political leadership, but it was not historic.