Public sentiment has been clear for weeks. Overall, the country prefers compromise to confrontation, stalemate and shutdown, according to the polls.
That’s why President Obama and Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress all stressed their determination to avoid such an outcome. All will claim a measure of credit for avoiding the worst.
But after they dragged the drama late into the night, it’s likely they understood there would be no winners politically from the first round of budgetary battles this year.
President Obama and the Democrats have themselves to blame for being in this predicament. Had they done their jobs last year, when Democrats had ample majorities in the House and Senate, the government would have been funded for the current fiscal year before Republicans assumed control of the House.
Once in the battle, Obama and his party felt pressure to show they heard the message that many Americans believe the government spends too much and that deficits are unsustainable. As a result, the president and congressional Democrats were forced to agree to much larger spending cuts than they had wanted, rather than appear resistant to popular will.
Republicans will express satisfaction over those concessions. But the GOP bears as much responsibility as the Democrats for stringing out this battle. Though the country as a whole favors compromise, polls show that a narrow majority of Republicans prefer to stand firm on the deficit, with tea party supporters even more adamant in that conviction.
Republicans were determined to show the country and especially their tea party followers that they were serious about cutting spending. House Speaker John A. Boehner’s (R-Ohio) statement that there was no daylight between him and the tea party was designed to hold his rambunctious caucus together.
But there is political risk in that position. The tea party’s apparent hold on the House leadership comes at a time of diminishing popularity for the movement. A new poll from the Pew Research Center showed that “slightly more disagree with the tea party than agree with the movement, a reversal in public evaluations from a year ago,” according to the center’s news release.
Beyond that, House Republicans used the funding bill to advance their agenda on social issues, including defunding Planned Parenthood. They argued that such “riders” are common on these kinds of measures, but the inclusion of these policy proposals not only complicated the negotiations but undermined the party’s focus on spending cuts and deficits, which proved so effective in the midterm elections last fall.