The debt-ceiling deal: Winners and losers

Chris Cillizza
Reporter July 31, 2011

The debt ceiling fight is over. The White House and congressional leaders have settled on a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, enact immediate spending cuts and, our favorite part, create a super-commission designed to trim the federal budget further by the end of the year.

The political stakes for this fight were massive — and it produced a number of winners and losers. Our take on the best and the worst is below.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House. View Archive
Winners

Mitch McConnell: The Kentucky Republican was like the Mariano Rivera of the debt deal. He waited until the game was in its final moments, came onto the field and helped close things down (in a good way). McConnell was also a voice of reason and frankness for Republicans, making clear that default would be a huge political loser for the party. In the end, he got a deal the way he wanted one — with him at the center of negotiations.

Tea party: There were major questions coming into the 112th Congress about who would blink first — the largely establishment-aligned leaders of the new Republican House majority or the tea-party-aligned freshman members. We got our answer to that question late Thursday as House Speaker John Boehner was forced not only to postpone his compromise bill but ultimately to add conservative sweeteners to get the 217 votes he needed. (He got 218.) The tea party — inside and outside Congress — will almost certainly be emboldened by the result of this fight.

President Obama: The president needed a deal of some sort to prove that he was capable of making the government work — even if it took until the eleventh (and a half) hour to strike the compromise. Liberals are likely to be deeply unhappy about the nature of the deal, which includes no increases in taxes or revenue. But remember that Obama’s target constituency in 2012 is not his base but rather independent and moderate voters. And those fence-sitters love compromise in almost any form.

Congressional Budget Office: The CBO is largely the redoubt of fiscal policy nerds — and we say that with the greatest respect. But for the past week of negotiations, the CBO was a central player — particularly when Boehner’s proposal came in under its proposed savings. Now that a deal appears to be done, the CBO will return to its relative anonymity (until the next budget fight).

Grover Norquist: With no revenue increases in the final deal, Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, appears to have held the line. His pledge — signed by hundreds of House members — not to raise taxes or revenue remains intact, as does his reputation as a “do not cross” member of the GOP establishment.

David Wu : Has a member of Congress forced to resign amid a sex scandal ever drawn less media attention? Somewhere, Anthony Weiner is grimacing.

Losers

Congress: Coming into this debt-ceiling showdown, Congress was about as popular as poison ivy. One can only imagine just how much further that discontent has spread after this high-profile demonstration of brinkmanship and intransigence. Lawmakers — bless their hearts — seem entirely unaware of just how bad they looked during this fight and will almost certainly spend the next few weeks (or months) congratulating themselves on their tremendous magnanimity.

Gang of Six : The group was supposed to put lie to the idea that true bipartisanship — in which both sides give somewhat equally — was dead. But the gang was never able to deliver its plans, amid departures and re-arrivals (Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, we’re looking at you). And after a brief renaissance late in the game when Obama praised the group, it faded again — eclipsed by plans pushed by leaders in both parties.

Commissions: It seems as though the answer to every in­trac­table problem in Washington is to form a commission. Social Security insolvency on the horizon? Commission! Education failing our kids? Commission(s)! (There have been at least four.) Heck, we have already had a commission to deal with the debt problem. The likely formation of a super-commission to figure out what can and should be cut out of the federal budget may not be doomed to failure, but it has a lot of bad commission history to overcome.

Liberals: As the basic framework of the deal emerged, liberals began voicing their discontent about a bargain that left their side wanting more. With no revenue in the initial phase of the legislation and Medicare cuts on the table in the second phase, there’s not much for the ideological left to celebrate.

More on PostPolitics.com

Which party won in the debt debate?

Will Obama’s gamble pay off?

Congress puts its faith in a special committee

Video Q&A with Chris Cillizza: Fix Faceoffs, noon ET

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