October 17, 2013
President Obama (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Obama (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Obama gave brief remarks this morning in which he stressed that it’s time to get back to normal governing, now that the crisis has been temporarily resolved. Obama twice stressed that economic growth must be a leading goal, and noted the deficit is “falling fast,” signaling a set of guiding priorities that — if followed in coming negotiations — will hearten liberals. He also said this:

“In the coming days and weeks, we should sit down and pursue a balanced approach to a responsible budget, a budget that grows our economy faster and shrinks our long-term deficits further.

“At the beginning of this year, that’s what both Democrats and Republicans committed to doing. The Senate passed a budget; House passed a budget; they were supposed to come together negotiate. And had one side not decided to pursue a strategy of brinksmanship, each side could have gotten together and figured out, how do we shape a budget that provides certainty to businesses and people who rely on government, provides certainty to investors in our economy, and we’d be growing faster right now.

“Now, the good news is the legislation I signed yesterday now requires Congress to do exactly that — what it could have been doing all along.”

This is a tenatative declaration of victory for sane governing norms, the restoration of which has been the Dem goal throughout this fight. But we don’t know how lasting it will be. The prospects for another breakdown, in budget talks or around the next government shutdown and debt limit deadlines, remain alive.

Beyond this, though, it’s worth asking whether, by holding the line until Republicans had no choice but to capitulate on the debt limit, Barack Obama actually did John Boehner a long term favor of sorts.

Most observers think John Boehner genuinely wants to get to some kind of long term budget deal. If true, he plainly has been hampered by pressure from the right not to even enter into negotiations that risk resulting in a compromise Tea Partyers would find unacceptable. Before yesterday’s outcome, conservatives explicitly were insisting that GOP leaders must not enter into any talks unless they could wield the threat of harm to the country to get something for nothing. Remember, Ted Cruz angered fellow Republicans when he refused to enter into normal budget talks unless Dems agreed in advance not to make raising the debt ceiling even tangentially related to the talks, effectively reserving it as an extortion tool later.

Cruz, of course, went on to demand that the GOP use extortion tactics to force Dems to agree to unwind Obamacare. GOP leaders tried that with a government shutdown, and then with the debt ceiling, and the rest is history.

Now that Dems have confirmed they will not give up anything to Republicans under such conditions, it’s conceivable this could end up giving Boehner a way to stave off the inevitable demands that he drag the country through the same again. He can rightly point to precedent. That won’t make conservatives any happier. But it could help mobilize GOP elites and moderates who balked at the party’s embrace of extortion tactics — and will probably be even more wary of them during the 2014 elections – to give even less ground to them next time.

None of this makes a long term budget deal easy. Brian Beutler has a good road-map explaining just how difficult it will be, because the parties are still at loggerheads over new revenues and because deep divisions among Republicans – and continuing Tea Party resistance to compromise — may make it hard for Boehner to find anything funding the government that can pass the House without maximum drama.  But — at risk of sounding wildly optimistic — perhaps yesterday’s precedent could make it easier for GOP leaders to make the case to the rank and file that the best way for them to get some of what they want is to enter into normal horse-trading, and give up on the idea of something-for-nothing governing for good.

Even if that doesn’t pan out, it’s possible the next debt limit hike will be kept isolated from all of this, which means yesterday’s outcome may make it easier for Boehner to mobilize resistance against demands for another default crisis. So we may get a lot more chaos and dysfunction, but avoid Armageddon. It’s something, isn’t it?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.