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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 04/07/2011

West Wing briefing: Lessons from the budget impasse


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), speak to reporters outside of the White House following a meeting with President Obama Wednesday. (Olivier Douliery - VIA BLOOMBERG)
Both the White House and Congressional Republicans say the current impasse is only the first in a year-long series of debates on federal spending. Expect more fighting over efforts to increase the federal debt ceiling, the 2012 budget and, potentially, a larger agreement on entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid.

Here’s a look a three lessons that are clear from the last several months of arguing over the 2011 federal budget.

1.Conservatives currently have more influence in Washington than liberals

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is paying careful attention to how the newly-elected conservatives in his House conference feel about whatever agreements he reaches with the administration on spending.

President Obama is not watching his political left nearly as closely. The White House, by its own admission, is now backing cuts similar to what Boehner proposed earlier this year. But criticism from liberals has been muted, in part because they realize their outrage will have limited impact on a president looking for an agreement.

This reality also reflects, in part, broader feelings within the parties: Republicans, in and out of Washington, want a spending fight more than Democrats.

A Gallup survey released Wednesday showed just 27 percent of Democrats would support a shutdown instead of “a compromise budget plan, even if that means they pass a budget you disagree with.” But a narrow majority (51 percent) of Republicans would favor a government stoppage.

2.Obama is back to his post-partisan self

As he blames “Congress,” attacks “Washington politics” and likens his former colleagues in Congress to spouses unable to get along, the president is trying to position himself as the adult in the room, the referee officiating between two parties to stop them from fouling one another.

His motive is obvious: Obama wants to return to the pre-2009 image he had as a unifying figure.

It’s also a bit odd: Obama and Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have the same position on most of the issues in the negotiations, and are strongly opposed to the ideas of Boehner and House Republicans. The president, despite his rhetoric about the failure of Democrats and Republicans to break the stalemate, really is in disagreement with the House GOP.

3.The Republicans think they have a mandate on limiting spending

Democrats governed in 2009 and 2010 as if voters had given them a license to enact major policies such as health care reform. Republicans seem to view the 2010 campaign as giving them a similar mandate on federal spending.

The actual cuts they are proposing, both in the 2011 and 2012 budgets, would seem risky based on the lack of enthusiasm shown by the broader public for spending reductions in most polls. And yet the GOP is determinedly pushing the cuts, much as Democrats pushed the health-care legislation even as it continued to lose popularity last year.

Obama’s schedule for today

The president is not slated to hold meetings on the budget talks with congressional leaders, but he could sit down with them again at some point if an agreement is not reached. His only scheduled public appearance is brief remarks after meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

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By Perry Bacon Jr.  |  06:00 AM ET, 04/07/2011

 
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