For Obama, a deal could fall short of his top goal in budget standoff

WASHINGTON -- Under a deal emerging in the Senate, President Obama is poised to claim a clear victory on his demands in the debt-and-shutdown showdown with Republicans -- except, perhaps, the one he wants most.

Although Obama’s frontline goals, as he often said, were simple -- Republicans should reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without demanding concessions -- his underlying aim was far more ambitious. The president and White House officials weren’t just trying to resolve this crisis, they were trying to prevent a sequel.

“If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extremist wing of one party, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, are allowed to extort concessions based on a threat of undermining the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president who comes after me -- not just me -- will find themselves unable to govern effectively,” the president said laying out his aims on Day 2 of the shutdown.

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But if the Senate proposal wins the day -- still an uncertainty -- it’s far from clear that Obama will have removed the debt limit as leverage even for the remainder of this own presidency. Both the Senate plan and a House version taking shape Tuesday morning leave unresolved the major fiscal disputes that have sparked two years of brinkmanship and largely create a new set of deadlines for action.

That leaves the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill in the position of hoping that Republicans will pick a new strategy. Polls show that the GOP is bearing the brunt of the blame for the current government shutdown and the threat of a U.S. default. White House officials acknowledge that they see the Republicans left with little leverage in the talks.

“I think that every participant in this exercise should, hopefully, understand that it should not be repeated -- not in a few weeks not in a few months,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

Given the deep division among Republicans in the House, it’s not at all certain they will agree to stand down next time.


“Nobody likes kicking the can down the road,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), “but if the president wants to do that and he’s got the bully pulpit and we’re unable to stop him from kicking the can all the way down the road, maybe having him kick it only a couple months down the road is the best we can do.”

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Under both the House and Senate proposals, the government would reopen until Jan. 15, giving Republicans and Democrats time to negotiate the budget in a conference. If no budget deal is reached there, another shutdown could occur. On the debt ceiling, the deals would extend the limit to cover the federal government’s borrowing until February, setting up another debate over the next increase in the spring.

Democrats argue that the schedule lays out of a path for avoiding a future standoff. If a broad deficit-reduction deal is reach in the year-end budget negotiations, if could include the terms of a debt ceiling increase. Republicans may be less likely to hold up a vote closer to the midterm elections.

For Democrats most skeptical of the House Republicans, that’s an optimistic view.

“It’s become the mode of operating here unfortunately,” Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said of the brinkmanship.

The White House would not comment on the specific timelines in the plans, although its officials have been involved in the negotiations and have broadly endorsed the Senate process.

“Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have been working in a bipartisan, good-faith effort to end the manufactured crises that have already harmed American families and business owners,” spokeswoman Amy Brundage said Tuesday.


Despite Obama’s insistence that he would not wheel and deal to reopen the government, the Senate outline is a compromise worked out over wheeling and dealing. Democrats don’t like the current spending levels, not to mention additional, automatic cuts set to take effect in the new year. They sought a short-term spending bill that would give them a chance to head off the new cuts. On the debt ceiling, Democrats wanted to extend the debt ceiling for a year, taking the issue off the table during an election year.

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Republicans sought the opposite: a long-term spending bill at the lower levels and a short-term debt ceiling extension that would retain some of their leverage.

And the White House appears ready to violate its “no paying ransom” strategy. The Senate proposal includes some policy provisions, including changes to the healthcare law championed by the president. But the measures are relatively painless items for Democrats and the White House -- a far cry from the delay of Obamacare that Republicans originally sought. One, a delay of a tax on employers and labor unions who offer insurance, actually smoothes over relations with a key Democratic constituency.

But the White House days ago redefined what it considered negotiations and what sort of concessions it was willing to give. Officials emphasized that the president objected to giving “concessions” or agreeing to attaching “partisan strings” in the context of budget talks. The key point, officials argue, was not giving in to the budget cuts or ideological aims House Republicans have sought to achieve by holding up a vote on the debt limit.

“It depends what you mean by negotiate,” Carney said Tuesday.

Michael A. Memoli and Christi Parson of the Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

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