Nervous Democrats fear that Obama gave away too much in the last-minute agreement that averted a government shutdown. They worry even more about the coming fights over raising the debt ceiling and particularly Obama’s response to the budgetary blueprint outlined last week by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
That response will come soon, perhaps as early as this week. White House officials see the debate over Ryan’s budget plan, which calls for deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, as far different from the one that ended Friday night.
That was a skirmish to survive, a debate over how much discretionary domestic spending should and could be cut for the rest of the fiscal year. The battle was fought on turf far more hospitable to Republicans, given the country’s concerns about spending that contributed to the Democrats losing the House in November.
The coming battle, which will be about fiscal priorities and society’s values as much as it is about controlling government spending, will be waged on ground that Obama’s advisers think is far better for the president and the Democrats.
“Paul Ryan laid out the congressional Republican vision of how you deal with deficits,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said Saturday. “It is a vision starkly different from the president’s and particularly because of the lack of balance in his approach.”
Still, there are questions about how Obama will take on this battle. Will he be willing to draw bright lines in this debate? Or, will his instinct for compromise cause him to give away more than his Democratic supporters want.
In the negotiations that ended late Friday, Obama remained largely above the fray. The course he was hoping to steer was evident from his remarks shortly after the agreement was announced.
Most important was showing the country that he could make Washington work. “Like any worthwhile agreement, both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them,” he said.
At the same time, knowing that the public also favors reduced spending, Obama pointed to the size of the cuts in the new agreement while noting that his priorities had been preserved. The budget, he said, would “invest in our future.” He also put down a marker against the opposition by noting that he and the Democrats had fought to prevent the GOP from using the budget fight to advance a social-issue agenda.