Debt-limit aftermath

After months of jockeying, the debt-limit debate is over.

Or is it?

The debate has been filled with partisan controversy and intra-party skirmishes, and there have been many entertaining metaphors. But only one chapter of this book has been written, and there are many more to come.

The bipartisan debt bill passed the House on Monday and the Senate on Tuesday. But that isn’t the end, nor even the beginning of the end; maybe it is the end of the beginning. Many Republicans says that is so, and many Democrats fear that is true.

Party leaders will soon have to select lawmakers to serve on the joint committee that will pursue additional cuts of up to $1.5 trillion. Many in Washington expect party loyalists to be selected, which would increase the chance of deadlock. 

If that happens, triggers would be activated, calling for cuts that neither Democrats nor Republicans want.

Will that be enough of an incentive for the parties to come together later this fall and endorse “a grand bargain”? Political analysts are split. But there is little doubt which party got the better end of Round 1.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer top Treasury official to head private equity group GOP strategist Steve Schmidt denounces party, will vote for Democrats Zeal, this time from the center MORE (R-Ohio) said he got 98 percent of what he wanted — a bit of an exaggeration, but it is clear that Republicans won the negotiation battle with President Obama.

Still, the White House is pleased with the deal. The threat of default is off the table until after the 2012 elections, which perhaps helps Obama’s reelection chances.

Congressional Democrats, however, are furious. They say the president sold them out. Many are stunned that the White House did not hold out for items on Democratic wish lists, such as an extension of unemployment insurance.

But Democrats helped the bill become law, especially in the House. There were 66 Republicans who voted no and 174 who voted yes. After much hand-wringing, the House Democratic Caucus split evenly on the measure, with 95 for and 95 against.

Over the last several months, Democrats made a series of threats and demands about the debt-limit legislation. In the Senate, for example, the party leaders insisted back in June that job-creating provisions be part of a final deal. They weren’t.

In April, 114 House Democrats called for a “clean” extension of the debt ceiling. Others called for a tax increase on the wealthy. Neither saw the light of day. Yet many of their advocates still voted yes this week.

The president signed the debt-limit bill Tuesday, and many in Washington are breathing a sigh of relief and exhaustion. 

The battle is over for the summer, but it will resume in the fall.