I have many topics in the column queue, but given the drama surrounding the spending deal, it is tough to write about anything else.
The first point is that any observer of Congress and of negotiation strategy has to give a serious nod and kudos to Speaker John Boehner for escaping from a very tight corner. As I noted last week, the Ohio Republican could have opted for a deal that would have attracted a bare majority — or less — of his own party and a sizable slice of Democrats, but at serious peril to his own standing. Or he could have held firm as a captive to his noisy right and ended up with a shutdown and turmoil that might have hurt President Barack Obama and the Democrats, but certainly would have damaged Republicans in the eyes of independent voters and more. (Interestingly, the first poll after the agreement shows that Obama and the Democrats get far more credit than Boehner and his Republicans, but that has little to do with the point above.)
We will see if Boehner loses votes from his own ranks as the details of the deal become clear — after all, half of the nearly $40 billion in cutbacks comes from mandatory spending, so the cuts in discretionary may not end up passing muster with some of his freshmen and Republican Study Committee troops. But the odds are very strong that he will get very solid backing from his caucus, based on a deal that, objectively, is a big plus for Republicans, given where they started. The credibility he gets for negotiating the deal, and holding out until almost the 59th second of the 59th minute of the eleventh hour, will strengthen his hand internally.
But the future negotiations are infinitely more difficult than these last ones. Boehner now has to deal with two distinct groups in his caucus. First are those who think he got the better of Obama, getting the number from $33 billion to nearly $40 billion, far closer to what Boehner had demanded than what Democrats had ever been willing to concede. This group will now insist that Boehner double down on his demands and firmness because they believe the president will fold like a cheap suitcase. If a group of kidnappers took hostages, demanded ransom and got just what they wanted, wouldn’t they be encouraged to do it all again?
The second group includes those who think the deal amounts to capitulation — they had pledged to get $61 billion from the discretionary budget and not a penny less. They got a third of that. Their motto will be borrowed from the movie Galaxy Quest, “Never give up, never surrender.”