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Echoes of TARP in Fiscal Fight, but Ties Have Soured

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Tense relationships among leaders, including between McConnell, above, and Reid, as well as Boehner, have made a debt limit deal difficult.

On Monday afternoon, aides said a framework was emerging that would reopen the government until Jan. 15, extend the debt limit until February and set up a budget conference with a deadline of Dec. 15 to reach a deal, among other provisions. But all of the relationships among the top leaders have been frayed by the years of partisan trench warfare since the Wall Street bailout: the hyperpartisan first two years of the Obama administration, the 2011 debt limit fight, last year’s fiscal cliff and many smaller fights in between.

Former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., a key figure in the passage of TARP, said the biggest difference between then and now is the nature of the fight.

“This is a totally artificially created crisis, and it’s totally under the control of the Congress and the president,” he said. Because of that, “the players are much more engaged on a political level than on a substantive level.”

There also are more people in Congress now who want to “stand in the corners and shout” rather than govern, said Gregg, now the CEO of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

Gregg dismissed the GOP strategy of threatening a shutdown and default over Obamacare as doomed from the start — one where the shouting faction won out over the governing faction. “You need people who want to govern,” he said.

But the frayed relationships at the top have only hurt matters.

Hill Democrats have felt burned by both Boehner and the White House after the 2011 debt deal locked in the sequester, and again during the fiscal-cliff deal when Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. agreed to a deal with McConnell that locked in permanent tax relief without addressing the sequester or the debt limit.

Similarly, Boehner and McConnell’s relationship has been tense over the years, particularly since the 2011 payroll tax deal. At that time, Senate Republicans essentially banded together with Senate Democrats on a deal to extend the tax credit, a decision that jammed the House and forced it to swallow the Senate bill.

Of course, the partisan mistrust is even deeper.

Obama and Boehner’s relationship deteriorated in 2011 after Boehner twice pulled out of negotiations on a grand bargain — and Boehner in turn told his conference earlier this year that he was through trying to cut deals with Obama after a postelection fiscal-cliff effort fizzled last year.

Reid and Boehner’s relationship, while never close, has been especially chilly in recent weeks, with Reid accusing Boehner of reneging on a private deal to keep the government open. And Reid has chafed at Boehner’s recent efforts to target health care benefits of congressional staffers, given that Boehner’s staff had worked behind the scenes to find a way to allow staffers and lawmakers to continue receiving employer contributions for health insurance purchased on the Obamacare exchanges.

Meanwhile, Reid and McConnell have grown only farther apart. Both have privately and publicly accused the other of reneging on deals regarding Senate rules changes. Reid appears to be holding a grudge against McConnell for what the Nevada Democrat believes was McConnell’s influence on his hard-fought 2010 re-election race. McConnell has in turn been irritated that Reid appears to be heavily involved in helping the Kentucky Republican’s likely 2014 Democratic opponent.

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